Feeling nervous for the first day of school? I am too.

PIXABAY/CC0 and author's compilation

PIXABAY/CC0 and author's compilation

This week marks the beginning of the school year for a number of school districts near where I live, which means getting up early again to get my kids to school on time. Even though I'm no longer in school, I still feel nervous for others who are - not least of whom are my kids. But in the last few days I have seen all the neighborhood kids and their parents scramble at the stores for last minute supplies, almost in a panic because they can't find that last box of #2 pencils. I can't help but laugh a little (not out loud of course!) at the stress these parents and kids are putting on themselves to be perfectly ready. Not laughing because I don't care, but because the very thing they are doing to try and manage their nerves is only adding to their stress. When we as people get stressed and nervous we tend to try and control whatever we can. Like with starting school again, so many parents and kids are nervous about making new friends or how they will get along or if they'll be able to find their class that they try to hold onto anything they can control - like having all the right supplies and the perfect outfit and the right breakfast - because that sense of control helps them cope with the other things they are dealing with, things that they can't control.

What to do when you feel nervous

Having nervous feelings can be really unpleasant; the tightness in your muscles, the sweaty palms, the racing heart, the butterflies in your stomach. On a side note, I always hated that expression, "butterflies in your stomach." Such a mean thing to say about butterflies...
Like I mentioned previously, a typical response to stress and nerves is to try and lock down control on whatever thing you can actually have any power over - as if the power we wield over our breakfst will translate to power over making new friends and having people like us. But this kind of grasping for control often brings its own kinds of stress and nerves, despite the fact that even if we could control all the little things it wouldn't actually make us feel any better. The obvious answer to what to do when you feel nervous would be to calm down, right? But that is easier said than done, but it's not impossible - it just takes a little effort in the right direction.

How to calm down

Breathe: breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. This is the first step. What makes feelings of stress and nervousness and anxiety so problematic is that they engage both our mental capacities and our physiological responses; and they do so in a cycle that is difficult to get out of. The key to breaking the cycle of becoming mentally nervous and then having your body respond with nervous behaviors which then make you feel more stressed mentally is to break that cycle and stop the crazy ferris wheel of stress in its tracks.There are ways to tackle stress from the mental side of things (figuring out how to be mindful in the moment and realize what can and cannot be changed) and from the physical side of things (that increased heart rate and tense muscles). The easiest for most people to begin with is the physical side of things.
So let's begin.

Breathe: breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. Try to measure your breathing by slowly counting in your head. Breathe in through your nose counting to 4, hold and count to 7, then slowly breathe out from your mouth while counting to 8. Repeat this pattern 3-5 times. There, I bet you're starting to feel a little bit better. Maybe you're still nervous, but hopefully you don't feel quite as tense physically. This kind of slow, controlled, and unusual breathing pattern can help slow your heart rate, increase the oxygenation of your blood, and give your mind something else to think about. This kind of slowing down and helping combat the physical effects of being nervous is a great first step to working through whatever thing you have before you that's stressing you out.

If you want to talk more about what's causing you to feel stressed and nervous, I'd be happy to listen and help. 512-931-4801