How to Be Nervous

There is plenty of advice on how not to be nervous: by breaking big tasks down into actionable steps, for instance. In fact, there’s a whole industry of bloggers and app developers to help you feel more prepared and in control. But what doesn’t get a lot of press is how to deal when things are out of control (you know, like most of the time).

So I thought I’d let rip a few hundred words on how to be nervous since even an organizational black belt will sometimes find themselves with sweaty palms, a quickening of their heartbeat. I, for one, will cop to the fact that I often feel nervous. I might be walking briskly across midtown, rushing to get to an appointment or worrying about a large presentation later that evening. My thoughts are thunderously loud and I barely detect the heat from traffic and smell of the Halal carts up Sixth Avenue.

It’s disorienting as I flit from one worry to the next. But my body is present. It’s here, on the sidewalk at 55th Street, dense and humming with energy: I feel a tightening in my throat, a trickling nervous energy in my stomach. Parts of my body have contracted in response to my thoughts. In fact, the more I ignore my body, the louder my physical symptoms eventually become.

That’s the opportunity. When anxiety occupies my mind, I return to the body as a reliable fixture in the present moment. My thoughts may be all over the place, accusing me of laziness or foolishness, but my body is substantial and real. It’s always here. In fact, the squirming and contractions in my body become a trail of bread crumbs back to sanity, using the four steps below.

How I Relate to Being Nervous

(Note: you can practice any of the steps, you don’t have to do them all)

  • I Acknowledge my mind and body: I’m in a spin cycle of anxious thoughts.
  • Embody: I feel my body (uncomfortable as it may be). What if I include my heart? How is this aching organ?
  • Expand: I see my environment, hear sounds around me. I imagine all the space around my body. I experience a wider world than just this problem.
  • Drop my agenda (at least for a few moments): I give myself permission to stop the endless scheming and plotting. I don’t have to know what to do next.

The edge on my anxiety is softened and instead of desperately seeking solutions, and really just thinking the same ideas over and over again, I’m energized. I’m freed from having to spin endless scenarios in my head. Am I completely calm?

No way!

The Cure for Being Nervous Is Not Fighting It

It’s easy to want to feel the opposite or complete absence of whatever uncomfortable thing we are feeling. But in my experience, we can’t pull a 180° on our feelings so much as we can connect to their underlying non-neurotic power. For instance, underneath anxiety is often a recognition that we need more balance. Perhaps we need more time for ourselves, or just less pressure to be perfect. In my case, I also know that sometimes what is driving anxiety is an excited part of me that would like to do a hundred things at once.

But unless we are willing to include the physical component of anxiety, we will usually keep spinning our wheels, thinking that our well-being rests in future decisions we need to make. In reality, which is where our sensitive and often uncomfortable bodies actually reside (as opposed to a world of hypotheticals in our mind), we can view fear as a call to be more present. We can remember that all people – even Halle Berry – experience fear.

By being willing to feel it, at least for a few moments, we might become better able to weather the everyday experience of not knowing what’s ahead. We might uncover an aspect of our own wisdom and equanimity that does not depend on gaming the future.

Try one or all of the four steps above, and let me know how it goes.

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Maria Reply

    Hello Dan,
    Love your new webpage design, love your posts. Wonderful stuff. Very encouraging and heartening.

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