I guess that when people see a paralysed person lifted onto a powerful motorbike, flying a plane, taking on a marathon in a robotic suit that she struggles to walk a few meters in and speaking to hundreds of people whilst sat in a wheelchair on the stage, it is clear why some may think I am fearless. Many people have said 'you are fearless' after a presentation but the comment couldn't be much further from the truth.
We all experience nervousness at one time or another, in fact, when my daughter tells me she is nervous about something I always reply 'that is fantastic!' It doesn't feel great at the time though does it? It feels like a combination of dread, anxiety and excitement all at once. Anything that causes apprehension or fear can lead to these feelings.
It is a response to stress and being out our comfort zone. Fright or flight kicks in, adrenaline is produced, heart beat increases, blood pressure rises and your breathing quickens.... you are more alert and have more energy.
This is different to anxiety. They have similar symptoms but they are not the same thing. Nervousness is a natural response and is temporary where as anxiety is long lasting, uncontrollable without treatment and often is without an obvious reason.
I was about to go on the stage a few weeks ago and I had my Apple watch on, I glanced down at my heart rate and could see it increasing. It was like I was exercising. No wonder I feel tired after a busy week of presentations.
I expect I would see the same increased heart rate when I am flying (especially when I am solo) or on a track day, again it explains why it can make me feel alert and full of energy but as the adrenaline reduces I can feel tired as if I have pushed a marathon.
So I am not fearless but I am not nervous about being nervous. When I had my accident I worried about quite the reverse. I was concerned I wouldn't get the chance to feel like this very often- bearing in mind, I was often competing my horses where both adrenaline and nerves featured heavily in my life. Yet I now not only have sports that make me nervous but also my career, each time I am waiting to wheel onto the stage- I am one lucky girl!
It is important we don't let nerves hold us back if we want to make the most out of life and reach our potential.
How can we control them?
Always remember it is a very normal and often positive response. With a little practice, you can learn how to stop the little pests getting the better of you!
Do not be afraid of nervousness. Acknowledge that you are experiencing something that most people do and accept it.
Be prepared. Of course you can't control everything that happens but you can choose to prepare. this can include allowing time, getting help when need it, practice etc
Positivity. Don't let your mind become full of negative thoughts. focus on the desired outcomes. Remember you can control your thought and now is the time. Nerves can makes us doubt our abilities- don't let them. Simple as that!
Reassurance. Have a quick chat to a positive friend/family member/colleague. Tell them how you are feeling and let them encourage you- it can boost your confidence.
Distraction. If you are waiting for something (which is often far worse than actually doing the task) find something to occupy yourself. When I was waiting to set off for my first attempt at getting my motorcycling licence I hoovered the house!
Relaxation technique. Breathing exercises can help in overcoming nerves but I don't use this one. It just reminds me that my high thoracic level spinal injury affects my breathing as some of the muscles I would use for breathing are paralysed.
So next time you are thinking of not doing something because you are out your comfort zone and nervous, go with the attitude 'I will not let nervousness stop me achieving something I want to do."
It is easy to look around and think others are confident but everyone who is taking a step forward in life and pushing forwards to achieve more will experience nervousness.
Most importantly, enjoy that feeling of accomplishment after!