We've all experienced nerves, whether it was before a public speaking event, leading up to a performance on stage or getting ready to compete in a competition. The symptoms are very real, ranging from sweaty palms to full blown nausea.
The science behind the physiological response is fascinating. In a condensed version, the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which forms part of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) is responsible for our "fight or flight" response to acute stress. The ANS is comprised of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The former will signal the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol when acute external stressors are sensed.
This is a rapid process, and will increase the heart rate as well as the respiration rate, cause our blood vessels to dilate and alter the digestive process to rapidly access glucose reserves in order for us to out-run or fight that lion.
Fortunately for us, there are few lions to compete against, but the symptoms remain. People often try and fight or dampen the nervous, automatic response, usually with little success. Instead of resisting the overpowering symptoms and creating further stress, what if we could leverage the natural response and use it to our advantage?
Mat Fraser, an athlete that has won the CrossFit games three times in as many years, once said that nerves simply sharpen the sword. It creates focus, and intent.
Here are 5 ways to leverage nerves to your advantage.
1 - Awareness. Understanding your own response to nerves and stress will greatly assist in being able to utilize the enhanced senses that accompanies it.
2 - Preparation. Knowing in advance exactly what you want to achieve will help create intent and laser focus your attention to the task at hand. Increased bloodflow to the brain will allow greater clarity, factor this into your considerations.
3 - Game Plan. Prior planning is all about knowing when to reign yourself in, and when to give absolutely everything. There are a multitude of positive adaptions your body will experience with nerves. Plan your strategy around this, develop a routine to ensure you enter the 'flow state' at the best possible time pre competition. More on flow states in an upcoming blog.
4 - Embrace it. Allow your body to experience the natural reactions of acute stress and nerves. It serves you, it's there for a reason. Once you become aware of that, allow the enhanced focus and improved oxygen uptake of your cells to boost your performance.
5 - Finish strong. Your mindset is primed. You are fully aware of everything around you, your senses are heightened, you know when to tap into the ample reserves of energy that your incredible body has made available to you. Prepare your speech to lead into a grand climax, your performance on stage to peak into a grand cresendo or your body to elimate that internal governor for the final sprint.
Train you mind to regulate when you can ensure peak performance, and nail it every single time.