We all remember that feeling before a championship game, a pop quiz, or recital on the big stage. Butterflies start to furiously swarm in the stomach. We feel like we might pass out or lose our breakfast! How do we overcome those nerves?
Old wisdom would tell us to “calm down” or “relax!” But, there’s a reason why the human body changes physiologically when we get nervous. Cleveland Indians performance coach, Ceci Clark, wants her players to understand this. She helps them embrace the increase in heart rate, shaking, and emptying of the stomach as their body’s way of prepping them to perform. Alertness, reaction time, and coordination are all primed and ready to be unleashed.
Harvard University researchers have shown that reappraisal of our feelings can make a big difference. In one study, they had two groups of students take a practice GRE test. The first group was told that it’s normal to feel nervous and those feelings can even help you do well. The second group was just told to take the test. The first group outperformed the group who was told nothing. Interestingly, the same results occurred when the two groups took the test for real three months later.
Other research done at Harvard on the topic has yielded similar results. When public speakers were told to say to themselves, “I am excited” as opposed to “I am calm,” they performed better. When people had to sing in front of random strangers, they performed better when they said to themselves “I am excited” as opposed to “I am nervous” or nothing at all. The researchers measured heart rate and blood pressure in all participants and there was no discernible difference. How we frame the emotions is what counts.
The next time your child is anxious or nervous about an upcoming event, be sure to let them know that nervous feelings are there to help them do well! Encourage them to enjoy the moment, embrace the intensity, and go for it!