Nerves. They are a nuisance, I really hate them. I suffer, believe it or not from chronic nerves. Now I’m not particularly a shy person and a lack of confidence is not an issue; I have trained in standing up on stage and wishing people to laugh at me. But as a person nerves play a huge part in my life.

I feel as though nerves are always there with me in the background, chasing me round wherever I go and always ready to attack. Whether it’s a short burst of excited nerves before going to a party. A strange phenomenon that I never quite understand, but feel all the same. As you sit in the taxi about to embark on your night out, thinking of what lies ahead, who will be there, where will you go, what will you end up doing, and a certain sickness comes over me. It’s not a particularly bad feeling. I sometimes think nerves and excitement feel so similar, bubbling up in the pit of your stomach, with that slight twinge of sickness, and that extra burst of energy in you fingers that makes them do enthusiastic little dances (or maybe that’s just me). Nerves and excitement become confused and are maybe interrelated. But I’m no scientist, I’m sure some clever people could instantly scientifically prove if my theory is right or not. But for the sake of argument, let’s say I am right. Introspection – the study of the self tells me that I am. (Yes I do know some clever sciencey terms, thank you very much dissertation. You’ve helped me with something in life).

But anyway back to nerves.

I feel them as I get on public transport, tubes hungover, is always a guaranteed heart and hair raising experience for me. In small claustrophobic spaces – lifts with no windows, or a narrow spiral staircases where you keep going round and round but the end never seems to come. Then the more obvious ones like before an interview, on a first date or waiting for any type of test results. As your getting your haircut, hoping to God your new style won’t make you look like any one of the following a) a frumpy old woman, b) a five-year old version of yourself or c) that person who can’t really pull of that edgy/sophisticated/bold look they were attempting.

It’s not a pleasant feeling and a lot of the time I feel like they hold me back. What is their function? They only make your performance worse. You mess up, your body is shaking, and all your focus goes on trying to control the feelings. You sweat, you turn red, and want to escape them. But the more you resist them the more they come. They come at inappropriate and irrational times.

I have done much research into nerves and anxiety over the years trying to understand what this nuisance is for. I have learnt in the most basic form that nerves are a gift from our ancestors. The fight or flight syndrome that was once used to warn us whether to attack or run from predators and dangers in the wild still remains with us. Threats and danger are much less immediate, and more ingrained into our everyday, it is not as simple as attack, or run anymore. Now that we don’t have to run away from a lion on a quotidian basis, we find that stress from work, relationships, and money spur on the same feelings of nervousness inside us. Our fighting instinct shows itself in long drawn-out, passive aggressive arguments via texts, emails and eventually in person. Our flight instinct in running away from that pile of work that you have been avoiding. These behaviours mean that we see our biological fight or flight instincts in our everyday life.

As an expert in all the various medical explanations of nerves and anxiety, and how to control them (doctors, books and google has informed me of every possible symptom you can have with my increased hypochondriasis whilst mid panic). I have personally concluded that our nervous system just has not adapted to modern day living. Fight or flight is very much still a necessary thing, if I saw a car speeding towards me that instinct is still very much irreplaceable. But the dangers and worries in my life could very much come from casually checking my inbox or getting phone call. Or, there are more abstract ever-present worries of what the future will hold. I as a 21st century person feel that threat is always looming and could meet me at any time in the simplest and most unexpected ways. As I have learnt this fact over years of living in this contemporary environment, my brain has trained itself to always be alert for danger. No longer do I feel threat when walking alone through a forest, at the chance of the grizzly bear coming to attack me. But I can feel it just walking down the street, in everyday encounters where bad news is always a threat.

Nervous to meet people. Nervous to speak. Nervous to be looked at. Nervous of the way you come across. Nervous before an interview. Nervous to tell someone the truth. Nervous to hear the words about to come out of their mouth. Nervous of becoming nervous. Nervous for what lies ahead. Nervous for the unknown. All equal – FEAR.

I am not a total psychotic, nervous wreck (as much as I may sound it). But I appreciate that worry and stress play a large part in our present society and leak out as a rational reaction to burdens in our lives. For me understanding that life is stressful in its nature rationalises my nerves. I feel calmer knowing that every person feels these same worries and that it is from our human nature that we have these feelings.

I can’t say that nerves don’t have their reasons, but maybe when they arise if we can sympathise that they are trying their best to protect us in some way I can forgive them and move on from them. Standing up in front of a crowd means my nerves are telling me;

Your about to be exposed, there could be danger. Be careful!

Instead of indulging in these feelings and letting them take over me. I should say;

Thank you very much nerves for the warning, I know your just here trying to protect me. But you’re a little old fashioned and I know that there is no immediate danger in this situation. Thank you for your help, but I can do this without you.”

When you next enter a situation when nerves arise maybe we should try thinking like this instead. I don’t want to try and indulge these feelings, and worry myself even more by trying to suppress them, or question why they are there. I want to acknowledge that they are a natural instinct and to shake them off instantly isn’t always going to work. But if I know they are actually on my side trying to help, maybe they won’t be such an enemy anymore, and we can work together. Turning my nerves into excitement and adrenaline.

A problem shared, is a problem halved.

But a problem held inside,

Can only multiply.


2 thoughts on “Nerves

  1. Hi Steph. I found your post to be both refreshingly honest and clearly heart-felt. For what it’s worth – you don’t ‘display’ the sort of ‘symptoms’ you are talking about – at least not on the (many) occasions I have had the pleasure of your company over the years.

    I know what you mean about nerves – but my take on them is that they are a perfectly normal and necessary part of the ‘human condition’. As you know, I am a Wedding Celebrant and, despite the fact that I have by now married circa 300 couples, I feel ‘nerves’ before every wedding that I perform. But – if I didn’t feel nerves then surely that is the road to complacency and ‘routine’?

    I read Richard Branson’s autobiography years ago and he talks a lot in it about suffering from nerves and his ‘coping strategies’. For example, in his early years he was invited to give a talk to the Oxford Union – but he was so badly affected by nerves that he couldn’t actually go onto the stage. And look how wonderfully successful HIS life has been.

    So – all I would say is ‘don’t beat yourself up too much’

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