HOW TO DEAL WITH NERVES: FOOLING PEOPLE INTO THINKING YOU’RE CONFIDENT.

We all know what it feels like to be nervous. From exams to job interviews to first days, new dates, scary phone calls, big meetings, all the way through to public speaking, there’s not a human being alive that isn’t familiar with nerves.

That feeling like you’re going to vomit, of hearing your heart beating in your ears, the sensation of butterflies escaping from your stomach and flooding into every other part of your body is a feeling that we all know.

It’s a feeling that I felt, strongly, last week.

On Thursday I stood up in front of 150 girls at a school in London to talk about my book, my blog and more importantly, why we need to be kinder to ourselves, support one another and learn to love our bodies.

It was the first time that I had ever done a talk like this. I did my first public speaking event at the end of last year, but it was a casual thing to a team of eleven people and I was given a glass of prosecco as soon as I arrived.

This event was going to be totally different.

Although I like to think, or at least hope, that I’m capable of rustling up a few chuckles every now and then, the idea of standing in front of a group of people (who I had deemed to be much cooler than me, and who outnumbered me 150 to one) was terrifying. What if my jokes flopped? What if they hated me, heckled me, threw their pencil cases at me? Worse still, what if I asked for interaction and was met with silence?

Images of tumbleweeds rolling over the heads of the students consumed me.

If this goes wrong, it could be incredibly awkward.

The date of this talk was changed last minute which didn’t help either. Admittedly I did have less time to play every worse case scenario in my head over and over again until I would inevitably have to feign illness and cancel, but 48 hours did not feel like sufficient preparation time. I ended up running through my speech only once before I went to do it.

Which of course meant that by the time I arrived, everything I had scrawled in my notebook and rehearsed self-consciously to my patient, but ever-s0-slightly bemused boyfriend was well and truly forgotten.

I was texting him a few minutes before I was due to start telling him that I couldn’t do it, I needed to cancel, I was going to be sick.

What I failed to notice however, as I frantically waited for whatever pearls of wisdom he could spare me whilst busy at his own job, was that the room in front of me had filled up and I was now looking down on over a hundred expectant faces. I could not run away. I was, for lack of a better word, fucked.

So what do you do? What do you do when your legs are shaking so badly you feel like you’re going to fall over? What do you do when you feel like the minute you open your mouth you might just throw up all over the faces staring up at you? When you’re sweating so badly you know for a fact it’s becoming visible through your shirt? When you’ve got hives all over your neck (that will later be commented on by a pupil who ‘KNEW I HAD ANXIETY‘ because of them)? When all you want to do is run home and not stop running until you are underneath a duvet, cocooned from the world?

Well, you’ve gotta fake it.

In the same way that we fake interest, curiosity and orgasms, so we’ve got to find a way of feigning confidence.

Of walking in and convincing, not just the people in front of you, but yourself, that you’ve got the situation totally under control. That you’re ready for this. That you’re good. That you know what you’re talking about. That you’re worthy of this. That you’re not going to be sick onto your shoes.

Historically people tell you to imagine the crowd in front of you naked. Since I was going to be in a school, I deemed this to be bad advice. I was going to need to think outside the box.

And think I did. The talk was five days ago now, no one heckled me but more importantly, I’m alive to tell the tale. So, with my new found wisdom, let me share with you what I know. Let me share with you my tips and tricks for feigning confidence when all you want to do is run and run and run until you can’t stop running:

Know that whatever happens, you’ll be back in your own bed that night.

This is the thing that I cling to, tighter than anything else. Whatever happens, I will be in my own bed tonight. (This does not apply if you are abroad, but you catch my drift). I hold onto the fact that at the end of it all, I know that I will drag my tired butt home and slip right back into my life as normal. In a matter of hours I will be doing what I do every night, cuddled up in bed with my dog and my boyfriend and my book; comfy and safe.

This is just a moment. 

Depression is a fixation on the past, anxiety is a fixation on the future. I find this interesting, and I apply it here. When you are tackling something head on, it must be remembered that this is only a moment in time. Your past has nothing to do with it, nor does your future. Right now it’s just you. You, in a moment, and there is nothing you can do to change that.

Physically remove yourself, for a moment.

Take a step backwards. A physical step back and actually look at the situation in hand. When you’re in it, really really in a situation, it’s hard to see it as anything other than massive. If you stand directly in front of a ten foot wall, it’s going to dwarf you. If you back it up a bit, it will suddenly appear so small you could almost hurdle it. So see this piece of advice as more than a metaphor, and actually do it. Take a step back and look again at the situation in front of you.

List every worst case scenario. 

This seems counterintuitive but it really helps. Get a piece of paper and a pen and write it all down. You will realise one of two things. Either that none of these eventualities are going to be the end of the world, or how incredibly unlikely it is that any of these things will actually happen. Is your potential employer really going to stand, point and laugh at you? And if he did, would that be the end of the world? Voice these opinions. Writing your concerns down will help you to visualise them and deal with them.

Dress the part. 

You remember that list that you just wrote about all the things you were nervous of? Was the fear that your shirt might be see-through in certain lights or the worry that you could get your skirt caught up in your knickers on there? Well it will be now, sorry. The point is, you’ve got enough on your plate before you start stressing about your outfit. Wear something you’ve rocked before, put comfort first, make sure that you’re confident. No brand new stilettos, please.

Distraction techniques. 

The decision to get a bus to this talk was a bold one. Double my crippling concerns with a driver too fond of his break pedal and I could well have seen myself vomiting on the head of the pensioner in front of me. Thankfully I made a last minute decision to take a book with me and was able to devour the last few chapters of a book I’ve been loving since October. By the time I looked up, removed myself from France in 1945, I was in Twickenham and couldn’t back out.

There’s nothing you can do about it now.

In part a terrifying prospect, if you are heading into an exam you feel ill-prepared for. In part, utter relief. There’s nothing you can do to alter the situation now, it’s happening. The prep work is done. All that’s left to do is do what you can, with what you’ve got.

These are not fool proof. Hell, I was a wreck by the end of it. But there was something else I learned on the way too, and that is this:

You might as well try to enjoy it.

We know you can’t run away. We know you’re stuck, fucked, whatever you want to call it. At the end of the day, let’s remember something. You get 24 hours in a day. You get seven days in a week. You get 52 weeks in a year. But how many years in a lifetime? Use this metaphor in one of two ways. One, life is short, why not try and enjoy every moment, even the seemingly shit ones. Two, this is a very small amount of time, in the scheme of things, it’s not even worth worrying about.

Soon it will just be a memory. And often, if it’s something we’re fixating on in such a way, it will be a memory that we will cling onto for a while.

So let’s do what we can to make it a good one shall we?

And just so you know, within two hours of my talk being over, I was pitching to other schools, fully prepared to put myself through it all again… so what does that tell you?

Nerves are fleeting. Euphoria sticks around for a lot longer.

(For more of this inspirational mumbojumbo, check out a blog post I wrote about ditching consciousness and having fun with confidence)

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4 Comments

  1. Natasza
    January 22, 2018 / 10:01 pm

    As my dad always says about public doctorate defense: 30 minutes of shame and a title for the rest of your life. Cheers to that!

  2. January 22, 2018 / 11:59 pm

    Just what I needed for tomorrow, thank you!
    I have an oral exam tomorrow and it’s freaking difficult and I’ve only had three days to prepare, and I’m so tired after making endless presentations, papers, groupworks (don’t get me started on those…) etc, but there is hope, after tomorrow only one exam to go. And now I’m babbling, so I’m off to bed.

    • Emily Clarkson
      Author
      January 23, 2018 / 7:40 am

      Oh bless you thank you and GOOOD LUCKKKK! You’ll be great 👍🏼 ❤️

  3. Gary
    January 24, 2018 / 8:59 pm

    oooh I can relate. I’ve lived with anxiety for close to 25 years. In my humble opinion if you can fool people into believing you’re confident and articulate then mission accomplished, you are.

    The harder trick is convincing yourself you’re confident and that’s the real hill to climb. Im not sure I’ve got there yet.. I’m still after all these years fooling other people but at least that’s better than shying away. It’s hard some times and deep down something doesn’t sit right but screw it….. whatever gets you through the day.

    Love your blog and world perspective.

    Cheers
    Gary

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