Observe the Nerves

Some tips on dealing with nerves before a speech from Julie Farrell.


How do you feel just before you give a speech?  Do your knees shake?  Does your heart thump in your chest?  Do your thoughts drive you crazy with messages of impending doom?

Here’s something that’s really helped me to deal with nerves before giving a speech. You can use this technique anytime that you experience an emotion that’s unhelpful or unpleasant, for example, with disappointment if you don’t get the outcome you were expecting.

Here it is: Remember that fear and other emotions are merely body sensations.

That’s not to say that we should dismiss our emotions or pretend they don’t exist – au contraire!

It’s important to realize that the only reason you don’t enjoy certain situations is because you dislike the unpleasant body sensations that arise when you are in that situation (or even when you think about that situation). It’s not public speaking that you fear, but the feeling of nerves. It’s not the failure you fear, but the fear of feeling the sensations of failure.

This is a great insight because it means the only thing you need to deal with is a bunch of body sensations.  I find it helpful to name the emotion that I’m feeling. ‘There is fear in my body.’ This helps me to stand back from the fear slightly, and to acknowledge that the unpleasant sensation exists in my experience: it’s important to recognize something so that you can deal with it, rather than trying to avoid it, deny it, or push it away.

Once I’ve named the emotion, I simply observe where in my body I feel the emotion. With fear, my heart tends to beat faster, my chest feels tighter, my knees sometimes shake, and I feel discomfort in my stomach. All perfectly natural and normal, when you remember that fear is there to protect you; to prepare you to fight for your life, or run for it!

But when you’re not faced with a real threat, such as lion or an impending collision with a bus, the automatic fear response has no survival purpose. In fact, it can get in the way of your enjoyment of a situation. Technically, if you could never feel fear (or other unpleasant emotions) in non-threatening situations, you would always have good experiences. It’s not possible to just get rid of thoughts and feelings, though, because they are as natural and old as humanity (and older). Repressing them doesn’t work. So we need to process them in a helpful way. If you observe your feelings and become fascinated with them, they will have less of a hold on you. You can retrain your automatic responses by practising this way.

Remember, thoughts are just thoughts and they can’t hurt you. Feelings are body sensations that can be acknowledged, observed, and then let go. Thoughts create feelings, and feelings often create thoughts. Try not to get sucked into the vicious circle of fuelling one unhelpful thought with an unpleasant feeling, and so on, until you’ve lost control and are imagining terrible things and experiencing horrible body sensations.  This will make your catastrophic imagining feel real!

I recently took part in a Toastmasters-led stand-up comedy course.  The night before my showcase I started having thoughts about what I would do if someone was to heckle me. I started going through all the scenarios in my mind, and, of course, my body reacted by giving me the symptoms of fear. My heart started pounding like mad. I already had a few stock replies to hecklers in my mind, so I thought, okay this is really unhelpful; I need to sleep and there’s not a lot I can do about people heckling.  Instead of letting my imagination run riot, I observed the body sensations of fear.  I slowed my breathing, and I directed the unhelpful thoughts into more rational ones, such as ‘Right now, there’s nothing I can do about people heckling me; it’s something that might happen in the future. These body sensations are just fear and they aren’t helpful whilst I’m lying here in bed.’

After doing this for a short time, my body sensations returned to normal, and I fell asleep peacefully. Give it a go next time you’re feeling afraid or angry; just allow the thoughts and feelings to drift by like fluffy clouds in a blue sky.

You can stop being a slave to your thoughts and feelings. The mind simply produces thoughts like a factory produces smoke. The smoke flows constantly from the chimney, so then you make the wise decision: ‘Which thoughts do I identify with and which do I let go?’ Just identify with those that make you feel good, and let go those that make you feel bad. You can become the quality assessor of your mind.

One final thing to remember is that your nerves will always be worse just before your speech.  Once you get up there and are in the situation, you’ll be so absorbed in what you’re doing, that your nerves will naturally lessen.  So, next time you’re sitting waiting to be called up for your speech, let the feelings come up, observe them, and remember this is the worse they will get.  And then enjoy the feeling of giving your speech, knowing how brave you are!

You can read more of my thoughts at www.youaresunshine.wordpress.com

Published by ChrisB

Twitter: @chrisboden1

4 thoughts on “Observe the Nerves

  1. Excellent advise and so perfectly expressed. Just follow Julie’s instructions and you will feel calm and enjoy the experience. Well done Julie.

    Doreen Gowing

  2. I felt a warm calmness enveloping me just reading that Julie! Wise words indeed, and so very helpful and true.
    We don’t have to be the victim of our fear – we can simply observe it, understand it and not let it overwhelm us, as you say.
    And, when giving a speech, we can remember how great we’ll feel at the end when we’ve delivered it – making good use of that andrenaline to ‘pump us up’ to an even better performance! 🙂

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