“I just feel like running away and not doing it”
Last week I had a call with Nicky, who is less than two weeks from undertaking an enormous challenge. She is running a half marathon in Greenland, facing sub-zero temperatures, wind chill and running over a slippery glacier.
She has trained, bought all of her kit and tested it in a climate chamber, planned her eating and drinking strategy for the event, and even worked with me to get her mindset strategies in place.
So why was she feeling so nervous as the start of the event approached?
You might have felt this yourself. You’ve got something that means a lot to you coming up and you’ve been looking forward to it, but as it gets closer and closer, suddenly it switches from being something fun, to a looming spectre, bringing anxiety and stress with it.
It can make you want to run for the hills.
The good news is that this is completely normal!
AND it isn’t something that you need to worry about once you understand what’s really happening.
We are used to viewing feeling anxious as something negative. Something that we want to reduce or avoid.
But, your body is simply getting you ready for exciting things.
It’s a natural response to things that you are excited about, or things that are important to you. Sometimes we need our body to respond like this in order to run away from a threat (you might have heard of the flight/fight system) but this isn’t it’s only purpose.
This ability of your body to ramp up its performance has another, altogether more exciting, and all too often overlooked purpose.
It’s getting you ready to perform at your absolute best.
If you did need to run away from a threat, you want your body to put all of its resources into that escape. When you want to run your personal best in a race, you still want your body to be ‘all in’ and to run at the limit of your ability.
Once you know that the butterflies, the nauseous feeling, your racing heartbeat or your sweaty palms are your body responding to your wishes to do well, rather than an unwelcome dose of fear hijacking you, you can take steps to use your body’s response to do your best work.
During her polar preparations, Nicky had trained to run in the coldest temperatures and at the extreme of her limits. Now her body is simply getting ready for what she has been training for. It’s doing its job. When she gets out there on the frozen glacier, she needs her body to respond automatically to the challenge and to run the race of her life. The ‘anxiety’ she’s feeling in her body is just her body and mind warming up together so that when that gun signals the start of the race, she can relax and let her body and mind do what she’s trained it to, while she takes in the wonder of her surroundings and enjoys every moment of her event.
This happens a lot in sport. Many athletes report feeling sick and nauseous before events. In sport, we call it performance anxiety.
In the world of drama and entertainment it’s known as stage fright.
In social situations where we want people to like us or to feel like we belong, it can be known as social anxiety.
By giving it these names, we are often associating it with something that is uncomfortable and that we would rather avoid.
So here is my invitation to you. If there’s something that you would love to do, but thinking about it makes your stomach flip, lean into that feeling. Perhaps it isn’t as extreme as Nicky’s polar adventure. Perhaps you’d love to do lives on your instagram account, or apply for a new job but the idea of the interview scares you. Either way, you can use this simple process to get through the icky feeling and perform at your best.
- Welcome the butterflies.
- Know that you are having this feeling because what you are going to do is important to you.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Breathe slowly.
- Take the action.
- Trust yourself to perform brilliantly.
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