How to stop being nervous

Clammy hands? Racing heart? Shaky voice? We’ve all been nervous at one point or another, but it can get pretty annoying when it's a common occurrence. Find out why we get nervous, how you know when it’s become a problemways you can stop it, and what to do if you’re really finding it tough.

This might help if:

  • You can’t control your nerves
  • Nerves are stopping you from doing the things you want and need to do
  • You want to learn how to manage nerves.
girl looking at crowd

Where do nerves even come from? 

So, you’re going on that date tonight. Or the big game is coming up. Or today is the big presentation. Your palms are sweaty, your throat is drier than a desert, and butterflies have taken refuge inside your stomach. What’s going on? The answer – nerves, and they’re a totally natural reaction to some of life’s more challenging events. 

It’s all because of an evolutionary reaction that’s programmed into our brains. When we’re confronted with a stressful situation (whether it’s an angry bear or a job interview) we have the same biological reaction, just to different degrees. Our body releases adrenaline (the hormone which prepares the body for sudden, physical activity), and redirects blood and energy to our heart and muscles to prepare them to react to the ‘threat’. This is why we feel physical symptoms when we’re nervous. 

So, it’s totally natural to get nervous, but when nerves start to get in the way of your everyday life, something’s gotta change. The good thing is, there are heaps of easy ways you can do this.

When it becomes a problem

Getting nervous can be a good thing, because it shows that you care about something. It might be that you’re afraid of stuffing up a speech in class, or that you don’t want to look stupid in front of your mates. 

There are lots of reasons we feel nervous, but if they’re starting to get in the way of your everyday life - stopping you from doing the things you need/want to do – there might be something more serious going on. In this case, it’s a good idea to chat to someone about it, like a close friend or professional.

To find out more about what it's like when your nerves get out of control, and what you can do to feel in control, listen to the A Day in the Life: Social Anxiety audio story.

So, how to stop?

Whatever the situation might be, here are some great tips on how you can stop feeling nervous.

  • Breeeeathe. Taking the time to really focus on your breathing can do wonders for your nerves. Get comfy and really focus on taking deep breaths into the abdomen (not the upper chest), exhaling for longer than you’re inhaling. This can help you calm down and concentrate on what’s in front of you. It's easier said than done, which is why ReachOut has made an app to help you! Suitably named Breathe.  

  • Think positive.  When you feel the nerves creeping up on you, a handy question to ask yourself is - what’s the best thing that could happen? Thinking positively about the bigger picture, instead of assuming the worst, helps give you courage and perspective. Check out some other ways you can challenge negative thinking.

  • Practise, practise, practise. Rehearsing as much as possible, whether it’s in front of a mirror or a friend, is one the best things you can do to avoid feeling nervous. When you practice something, you’re strengthening the connections in your brain and the stronger those connections get, the more skilled you become at something. Not to mention, the more confident you are about something, the easier it will be. 

  • Look after yourself. If the big event is coming up, it’s easy to forget that you’re an actual human who has basic needs like food and sleep. Sometimes eating a full meal might seem like the last thing you want to do beforehand. In this case, just eat a banana. It’s a great snack food and will give your brain a good old boost of energy. Getting enough sleep is also really important for feeling super fresh and on the ball. 

If you’re really struggling

Nerves can sometimes be too hard to shake. If you’ve tried out all these methods but you’re still finding it really hard to deal with certain situations, there might be something bigger going on. If this is the case, get in touch with a GP or talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Being nervous shouldn't stop you from living your life.

What can I do now?

  • Find out why mindfulness can help out with nerves.
  • Check out these easy ways to relax.
  • Download ReachOut's Breathe app and learn some effective breathing exercises. 
Last reviewed: 21 October, 2015
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