Manage Your Nerves Just Like a Professional Athlete

I get really nervous before my sports tournaments because I'm worried I won't do well. How does one manage this nervous energy? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jonathan Fader, author of Life As Sport, sport psychologist for the New York Mets, on Quora.

"I've never been afraid of big moments. I get butterflies...I get nervous and anxious, but I think those are all good signs that I'm ready for the moment." - Stephen Curry

I get nervous too. We all do to a certain extent. Whether I'm working with an elite firefighter, a baseball pitcher, or a trader, everyone gets put into situations that create nervous energy.

I'd like to congratulate you for calling it nervous energy rather than anxiety. When people think about it as anxiety, it becomes this uncontrollable force that we don't know what to do with. In sport and performance psychology we call it physiological arousal, meaning your sympathetic nervous system is sending you into fight or flight mode, and you're getting ready for battle. Everyone, from elite military operators to professional athletes, has moments where they experience this. Stress is contextual and relative. No matter how tough you are or how good you are at your particular sport or activity, there are situations that are going to heighten your physical and physiological arousal. The first thing to know is that these physical sensations are completely normal.

We are built with a nervous system that is designed to bring out physiological arousal to prepare us to perform. Everything in your body is there for a reason. Your heart rate, your pulse, and your breathing are all there to support you. Sometimes one aspect needs to be tuned up. What we do in sport and performance psychology is help people to learn tools to modulate and respond to their body and their mind. Fundamentally, there are a few basic strategies to control this nervous energy.

First, it's important not to do anything in response to these sensations. Send yourself the message that they are simply an indication that your body is getting ready to perform. Tell yourself, "This is my body getting ready to go!" This will help you short-circuit any downward spiral or physiological arousal that may lead to more dysregulation. You will make Stephen Curry proud.

Second, use a breathing technique. For example, breathing in for four seconds, then breathing out for four seconds, with a two-second pause between breaths. It's helpful to regulate your breathing and breathe using your belly or diaphragm, as that helps you control your heart rate. By focusing on your breathing, you are creating a new center of focus to allow you not to worry about what's going on in your thoughts. Being human is awesome, and gives us the privilege of thinking, but it can also suck in that we think too much. A baseball player once said to me, "Thinking is f*&%ing horrible." Controlling your breathing helps to reign in that over-arousal and helps you get back into the present moment, experience the game, and play at your best despite your nervous energy. Your body knows what it's doing. Take a breath, and refocus on enjoying the opportunity to play!

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