If you know there is an upcoming event or situation that’s likely to trigger a period of intense nervousness, then learning a variety of techniques/things you can do that calm, soothe and help you work through it could be really useful.
Building an emotional and mental health “toolkit” is a valuable, personal resource that can be used whenever you need it. Knowing that you have a bank of ideas or ways to try to tackle situational nervousness may build-up resiliency that could, potentially, reduce the intensity or number of situations that cause emotional distress.
Nervousness is often a temporary stress response that is likely to stop once the situation/stress trigger has passed, and while it can be one symptom someone with an anxiety disorder may experience, nervousness and anxiety are not the same things. An anxiety disorder develops from a range of highly complex factors, often requires a medical diagnosis, professional treatment and is long-term/ongoing. Although these tips may be used by someone who has anxiety and experiences intense periods of nervousness, they are not meant as a guide to treat or manage an anxiety disorder. Being mindful of how we talk about nerves and anxiety is really important — even though both terms are commonly 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, date, hospital visit, exam, family meeting — anything applicable), repeat reminders to yourself that are comforting. Things like: I am safe, I am well-prepared, I am going to be okay, I can get through this, I am valued — or any other kind of self-talk that helps is useful to repeat to yourself.
Spot Your Surroundings | Take a moment to look at and notice what is around you. Locate the nearest restroom, see where you can get food/drink from, notice signs or artwork on walls, take note of the people near you, look for specific colours, chairs or windows, etc and count how many you can see. This can help distract your brain for a time and focus on feeling at ease.
Focused Breathing | Let your shoulders drop and steady your breathing by inhaling as normal but exhaling a little longer. Taking in big, deep breathes can actually increase your heart rate and make you dizzy or hyperventilate so just stick with a prolonged exhale. Listen to the sound of your breathing, notice how it feels to expand your lungs. Relax your shoulders again, and repeat.
Wear Headphones | You don’t have to listen to anything (sometimes I have such intense nervousness even music can become overwhelming) because just wearing them can create a personal boundary and reduce noise enough to let you focus on grounding yourself or focusing on your breathing, etc. If you’re able to listen to music it can be a very effective way to distract from any negative thoughts or feelings.
Love Your Gut | Nervousness and anxiety is very much linked to your gut. It’s quite common to experience diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, bloating, heartburn, etc during an episode. Making sure you know where the nearest restroom is might reduce nerves about being able to get to one easily/in time, but rethinking your diet could be key to a long-term reduction to stomach problems. Ginger, for example, is good at reducing stress and its effects on the gut, so it could be beneficial to introduce it into your diet. Having some ginger tea/tonic or ginger candy on hand for whenever nerves strike can also help with calming your insides. If you know well ahead of time that you’re going to be in a situation that will produce a bout of nervousness, it might help to reduce/stop eating any foods that may upset your stomach a day or two before.
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 do anything (this can be common for many people, including myself) don’t feel burdened by thinking you need to be productive. Come prepared, but flexible.
Pressure Points | Acupuncture or pressure points around the body can help calm you when under stress, but you might not feel comfortable pushing on and massaging parts of your body if you’re in public. An easy way to do this without anyone noticing is to wear motion sickness bands (sometimes called travel or sea bands). They press on the inner frontier gate point (find it here), which lays on the pericardium channel and can alleviate nerves and nausea.
What other techniques and tips do you have? What works for you when you feel situational nervousness?
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