If you know there is an upcoming event or situation that prompts a period of intense nervousness; establishing a variety of techniques to calm and soothe can make working through anxiety a little easier.
Building an emotional and mental health “toolkit” is a valuable personal resource that can be used whenever required. Recognizing a number of approaches that tackle situational nervousness may build-up resiliency that could potentially reduce the intensity or number of situations that cause emotional distress.
While nervousness can frequently be a temporary stress response that eases once the situation/stress trigger has passed; and is common among people with an anxiety disorder, nervousness and anxiety are not always the same thing. An anxiety disorder is a long-term/ongoing issue that develops from a range of highly complex factors; typically requiring a diagnosis and treatment from a doctor. Although these tips may help manage intense periods of nervousness; they are not intended as a replacement for professional treatment of an anxiety disorder. Being mindful about how we talk about nerves and anxiety is critically important — even though both terms are used interchangeably, we must not conflate the two.
Here are self-soothing techniques and tips to help you work through a period of nervousness …
Reassuring Self-Talk | Depending on the situation you’re reacting to (it could be an interview; a date; a hospital visit; an exam; a family meeting, etc.) try repeating comforting reminders to yourself. Statements like: I am safe; I am well-prepared; I’m going to be okay; I can get through this, etc. can help release some nerves.
Spot Your Surroundings | Take a moment to observe what is around you; locate the nearest restroom; identify where you can purchase food/drink; notice signs or artwork on walls; take note of people near you; look for specific colours or objects and count how many you can see, etc. Doing this may help distract/focus your brain and induce feelings of ease.
Focused Breathing | Instead of taking in big, deep inhalations that increase your heart rate and make you dizzy/hyperventilate; focus on a prolonged exhale. Let your shoulders drop then steady your breathing by inhaling as normal (4 seconds) then exhaling for little longer (6 seconds). Focus on how it sounds and feels to expand your lungs; relax your shoulders again and repeat.
Wear Headphones | You don’t have to listen to anything while you’re wearing headphones; every so often music can become overwhelming/overstimulating during intense periods of nervousness. Making use of them with or without anything playing can establish a soothing personal boundary; enabling you to focus on grounding or breathing techniques, etc.
If however, you want to listen to music to de-stress, you may find it’s extremely effective at distracting yourself from any emerging negative thoughts and feelings.
Love Your Gut | Nervousness and anxiety are very much linked to our gut; it’s relatively common to experience diarrhea, stomach cramps and/or nausea, bloating and heartburn during an episode. Knowing where the nearest restroom is, for example will reduce nerves about finding one easily when needed; rethinking how we eat, however could be key to reducing stomach problems long-term.
Ginger is good at reducing stress and the effects it has on the gut, so it could be beneficial to introduce some into your diet. Keeping ginger tea/tonic or candy on hand can calm your stomach and improve relaxation whenever nerves strike.
If you know ahead of time that you’ll be in a situation that produces a bout of nervousness; limiting the intake of food/s that upset your stomach (at least a day or two before) will likely help keep your digestive system in check.
Keep Your Hands & Mind Occupied | Knitting, crochet, colouring-in, origami, sudoku, to name a few ideas, are good examples of ways you can keep your hands busy and mind distracted from unease for a while. If you feel too overwhelmed to complete anything, don’t feel burdened into thinking you need to be productive. Come prepared, be flexible and show yourself some kindness.
Pressure Points | Massaging certain pressure points around the body can support relaxation when under stress, however you might not feel comfortable performing this if you’re in public. A convenient way to press on the inner frontier gate point (find it here) which lays on the pericardium channel that alleviates nerves and nausea is to wear motion sickness bands; sometimes called travel or sea bands. You sustain continuous pressure point contact without having to do anything noticeable.
What other techniques and tips do you have? What works for you when you feel nervous?
What to Say (and Not To Say) to Someone with Anxiety – Right As Rain by UW Medicine
Anxiety vs. Nervousness 101: Managing ‘Mild’ Anxiety – Promises Behavioral Health