Nervous? Do This One Thing.
There it is. You don't even have to scroll down to see the full recipe.
If you do, you'll spend five minutes of your time reading this and trying it out. BUT it will save you hours of mental wrestling.
And if you’re not into reading, you can just watch the video :)
As a Five on the Enneagram, I overthink everything, but quick movements help unite my mind and body in one purpose. Not familiar with the enneagram? See if this post helps you figure out which one you are. If you're part of the head triad (5, 6, 7), then you might be like me and live in your head too much. Movement helps break you out of the mental struggle and into real results.
No matter who you are, this works whether you are nervous about going back into work, going live on a social media video, walking into a party with people you don't know, really anything you can get nervous about.
Let's start with the origin story:
"Are you nervous about your first day of kindergarten?" I ask my daughter. She slowly nods her head as she looks down at her untied shoelaces. As we talk, I guide her through the steps. She cross the laces and carefully picks the other end and pulls it through.
"You know, the nervous feeling is the same feeling of excitement. The difference is instead of being scared about the bad things that could happen, you think about one good thing that could happen." Instead of thinking, “what if I don’t have fun?” Think, “what if I DO have fun?” She grabs opposite ends of the laces and pulls them down tight. She looks down, and I can tell her wheels are turning. Now's my chance to move that nervous energy out and transform it into excitement.
Why Do We Get Nervous?
Nervousness is thinking about everything that could go wrong.
Excitement is thinking about what could go right.
The feelings are the same, but the thoughts are different.
Imagine that you are thinking of going live on a video, but you start to get nervous. You feel your heart beating in your chest, and all the "What ifs" and "you can't do thats" are suffocating you. The physiological response of nervousness and excitement are the same: increased heart rate, jitters, and sweaty palms.
Feel your feelings, direct your thoughts.
Maybe you decide that you can't but God can, maybe you answer all the "what ifs" with "even ifs," and instead of being nervous about how you're going to mess up, you get excited about what God can do and look up.
Instead of backing out because you're nervous, you move ahead in excitement.
This slight mindset shift is subtle but oh so crucial. How can you get there?
You can nudge the shift with movement! Nervousness is a feeling of powerlessness against all the unknowns. Move to take real action and cut through the fog.
When we move, we regain confidence in our ability to make things happen. When we move, we harnesses the unbridled nervous energy into one singular purpose.
How to Break The Nervous Tension
Exercising for just five minutes begins shutting down the worry center of our brain, but sometimes we don't always have five minutes to run around before a presentation or meeting.
Just as athletes use tried and true methods to get psyched up before a game in the locker room, we could use a few of their tactics to transform nervousness into excitement.
Scientists tested three methods of how to psych yourself up before a performance: positive self-talk, visualization, and if-then planning. Can you guess which was most effective?
Positive self-talk. If you believe things will go well, the rest will follow. Let faith in the God who cannot fail lead the way. Store up Scripture, truths, affirmations to use for times where you need to break out of the nervous spin cycle.
A few other proven strategies are intense breathing, high-energy body language, intensity keywords, and music. We will combine all of these into one exercise.
Transform Nervousness with This Exercise
Scripture says to not be conformed to the ways of the world, but be transformed to the image of Christ. Do not be conformed by nervousness, but transform this nervous energy into power you can use! You have the spirit of power, love, and self control. Let's do this!
Music. If you have a car ride ahead of you, pump up the inspirational jams. Here's mine. You better believe there's some Jock Jams and Spice Girls on there.
2. Power prayers. This combines the positive self-talk, high-energy body language, and intensity key words. Instead of ruminating on negative outcomes, call out in faith what you hoping for or even just thankful for while either clapping, pumping your fist, or giving someone a high five. If you have more space and really need to boost your confidence, you can even do a quick set of pushups or jump squats to increase your sense of agency and fire up your energy systems.
I've found it best to find two word or two phrase affirmations to pair up with exercise. Here are some examples:
Performance anxiety: *two claps* "my weakness" *first pumps* "His strength"
Social anxiety: *points up* "Jesus is" *chest pat* "with me"
Work anxiety: *two claps* "all things" *raise the roof* "through Christ"
If you feel silly doing this, you're doing it right! The best way to break up tension is with laughter. Play around. Skip around or do jumping jacks instead of clapping. Don’t take yourself too seriously, because as C.S. Lewis says, joy is the serious business of heaven.
With your kids:
For kids, fun is number one. If you can make something fun, they’re in. When my daughter couldn’t get out of bed and get dressed for Kindergarten, I grabbed some stuffed animals and launched into a dialogue about how Olaf was melting but then an angel swooped in and made snow for him…and then followed him at school but was invisible to everyone else (a little subliminal angelic encouragement for her day).
If your kid is feeling like a gloomy gus, they probably won’t want to engage with you the way you want to. They want to feel safe and in control, so draw them out with something fun, like
Playing the clown (doing things wrong on purpose, pretending to hurt yourself…kids love that stuff).
Putting on dance music and making a fool of yourself. They will stop thinking about how nervous they are when the attention (and pressure) isn’t on them.
Once you have them laughing, or see a hint of a smile underneath their feigned frown, you can try a power prayer. Think of a two-part phrase you can do together. You can do the first part and she can do the second. You can being by saying "Love God" and they respond with two claps saying "love others."
Or you can do a little sports huddle, put your hands in as your say your first phrase together, then raise them up high on the second phrase. If they don’t do it with you, don’t worry about it. They’ll see your example and store it up for later when they need it.
With your workout:
I like to have a phrase that inspires the workout, and when I’m teaching, I’ll focus on a two-word rally cry and shout it out when things get hard. For example, ours the other day was “For joy, Jesus endured the cross” and during the workout I would say, “For joy on 3: 1, 2, 3,” and everyone shouts together, “FOR JOY!” It really helps get us through!
In the workplace or school:
If you're in a work or classroom environment where you can't exactly clap or slap without getting some weird looks and taking a hit on your already fragile confidence, find a private space like a closet or a bathroom stall and get in power pose mode: hands on hips, chest out, chin lifted, smile on. Close your eyes and envision the Lord smiling back at you. Ask for His joy to be your strength, and go out in the power of His presence.
What It Really Looks Like
Each situation is not always as cut and dry as a simple exercise. It can simply be moving along with someone else, doing a simple task that leaves you more empowered, and talking about what you can look forward to. here’s how our morning ended:
"Let's think about one thing you can get excited about," I said to my daughter that morning.
"I did make a little sandwich monster for your lunch. He's pretty cute. You can get excited about opening him up at lunch!" I say as she loops one side of her shoe.
"And seeing my friends at recess," she says as she pulls the other bunny ear through.
"That's right!" I say, seeing her light up already. "And hopping into the car at the end of the day to tell us all about it."
She pulls the shoe laces down and looks up with a smile. I give her a high five. "You did it! You tied your own shoes!" She looks proud and asks me to open up her locket necklace. Inside are pictures of me and her Daddy. "I'm sad we won't be able to be there with you, but the Lord never leaves you, never ever."
And as I walked her to her classroom, her grip on my hand loosened as she saw her name on her desk. The little girl across from her waved, and Ellie waved back. I breathed a little sigh of relief. Now I wasn't so nervous to leave her, either.
If you took away anything useful from this post, I think you will love the book Move for Joy: Pursuing God in Fitness and Finding Happiness. :)