How To Control Your Nerves? 10 Useful Strategies

Knowing how to manage stress and anguish is key to facing decisive situations in life.

Dry mouth, sweat, chills, stuttering, hesitation, bowel movements … all of these phenomena are familiar to most people when faced with a situation that causes them a high emotional tension. 

And it is that almost all of us have had an exam in which we played something important, a public exhibition, an appointment with someone we are interested in or a medical examination. When it is important to us and we are concerned about the end result, our nerves make us uncomfortable and tense and they can even play tricks on us such as being blank. 

How to control your nerves? In this article you will find a series of recommendations that allow either the level of nervousness to be reduced or it does not affect our performance so much.

Nervousness: an uncomfortable but useful phenomenon

Nervousness and stress are phenomena and reactions that tend to be distressing and unpleasant. It is logical to ask what use can be made of something that is so aversive to us and can degenerate into pathological reactions.

The truth is that nervousness is a reaction to stimuli that we foresee will happen in the future  and it is a very adaptive advantage that allows our survival. This is done by the autonomic nervous system, specifically the sympathetic system. It causes the body to activate and prepare to react to the situation that represents an emotional activation. Thanks to this we can, for example, be prepared and attentive in the exam in which we play to pass the course.

The problem occurs when such nervousness is excessive, does not yield or prevents or limits a correct action (such as the fact of going blank). On these occasions it can be maladaptive. That is why when faced with high levels of tension , knowing how to disconnect and control nerves can be useful. Let’s see how that can be done.

Control your nerves: some strategies

Below are a series of ways and aspects to consider in order to manage or control nerves. However, one must be clear: these different recommendations can serve to reduce nervousness or its effects, but they do not eradicate it at its roots.

1. Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are some of the first and best known recommendations to fight and control nervousness. The usually recommended techniques focused on controlling breathing and stress and muscle strain, like swilling progressive muscle relaxation of Jacobson. Also, some types of techniques take no more than a few minutes and can be done anywhere.

2. Mindfulness or meditation

Mindfulness or meditation help us connect with the present, relativize things and focus on what is important. The tension level can be greatly reduced and we can manifest a higher level of self-control. Meditation with soothing imagery can also be very helpful.

3. Self-instruction technique

“I can’t do it” or “I’m going to go blank” are thoughts that some people have when they feel nervous. This is completely detrimental, since our expectations about our own performance can modify our final behavior so much in the direction we thought (remember the Galatea effect and the self-fulfilling prophecy). 

On the contrary, holding positive thoughts and believing in our own possibilities can favor our final performance. In addition, giving yourself self-instructions on what we are going to do next helps us not forget the key aspects.

4. Rehearse and prepare the situation

Many times we are tremendously nervous because we do not know how we are going to act in the situation. Although obviously it will not be the same, a good way to know and improve the performance is to rehearse what we are going to do or say. For example in front of a mirror or better yet, with other people different from those who are going to participate in the dreaded situation.

Although it is redundant, rehearsing allows us to practice the actions that we are going to carry out, to gain a vision of our strengths and the things that we should improve before carrying out the performance and to receive input from potential observers. In addition, we get used to the situation, so that part of the surprise or novelty will not affect us so much in the moment of truth.

It is usually recommended that these reviews or rehearsals take place in the hours before the stimulus that causes the nervousness. However, some people tend to find it beneficial and even be the moments of maximum productivity when preparing.

5. Be prepared, but leave room for improvisation

Rehearsing is necessary but we must bear in mind that we should not pretend to have everything prepared and planned, memorized as if we were going to recite something written on paper. In addition to the fact that the latter would be forced and unnatural in most cases, it is necessary that we know what we are going to do and have an outline of the situation in general, but we must be ready so that the situation may have unforeseen elements.

6. Decatastrophizes

We can put ourselves in the worst possible situation we can think of, and then ask ourselves what would really happen if what we fear happens . It is about relativizing the importance of what is feared. We fail an exam, the appointment is fatal or we go blank. They laugh at us or we miss an opportunity. Y? 

I can perform next year, get another appointment with him or the person in question or carry out another work. That is not going to kill us. The objective of this type of action is to give things the importance they have, no more and no less.

7. Expose yourself to the situation and avoid avoidance

A mistake that many people make not only when faced with normal nervousness, but also with pathological anxiety is to avoid the dreaded situation. This only reinforces our fear of what is to come and worsens our abilities to cope with it. It is not about provoking fear for pleasure, but about learning to face it adaptively.

8. Consume drinks that allow you to relax and avoid exciting ones

Coffee, energy drinks, or other exciting substances will increase the level of arousal, which will create even more nervousness. That is why we must avoid them especially in the moments prior to the situation that causes us nervousness. On the contrary, relaxing drinks such as linden or chamomile may be beneficial . In some extreme cases, some type of tranquilizer drug may also be consumed, only on medical advice.

9. Play sports

Exercise activates our body, but it can also allow us to empty our minds and calm us down. Endorphins and other substances are generated that help reduce internal tension. It is useful to do exercises that leave us relaxed, but it is not necessary to do them until we are exhausted. Running or swimming are usually some of the typical examples of useful exercises.

10. Contact with nature

Feeling the wind and breeze, the touch of grass or sand, the cold of winter or the sunlight can be very pleasant. In addition, it has been shown that being in contact with nature can be relaxing and greatly reduce our stress levels. This recommendation can go hand in hand with exercising.

Bibliographic references:

  • Barlow, DH. (2000). “Unraveling the mysteries of anxiety and its disorders from the perspective of emotion theory”. The American Psychologist.
  • Lorenzo Fernandez et al. (2013). Manual of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology. Pan American. 
  • Nuss, P- (2015). “Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation”. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat.

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