How to reverse nervousness

Test season is stressful—after preparing for months, the last thing you want is for your performance to be limited by your nerves

One powerful way to manage anxiety is by using Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). It is widely used by people from Olympic athletes to patients with depression or insomnia. It is meant to interrupt racing thoughts and provide mental clarity.

The technique forces relaxation. It works because when a person is anxious, their body tenses up. The feeling of stress affects the physical body. PMR reverses that. By relaxing your physical body little by little, you reduce the feeling of stress. Theoretically, because the mind and body are interconnected, a person cannot feel anxious if their body is relaxed.

Set aside as much time as you can. Ten minutes or more is ideal. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Find a comfortable place, free of excess noise and movement. 
  2. Lay back in your chair or even lay on the floor.
  3. Deeply inhale as you tense each muscle group, then exhale as you release suddenly. I find it best to start with my toes.
  4. Inhale as you clench your muscles tightly and hold for anywhere from 4 to 10 seconds. You should feel the muscle clearly, but it should not cause you pain or cramping.
  5. Quickly release the muscle as you exhale.
  6. Now spend about 10 or more seconds relaxing, sensing the difference in that muscle. This is the most important part. Without sensing the difference, tension may quickly come back. 
  7. Continue to the next muscle group in your lower legs. If you have pain in any area of your body, feel free to skip it. 

After practicing this, you speed up by tensing and releasing larger sections of muscles. For instance, your entire legs rather than just your toes.

For the most effective results, use PMR regularly in the days leading up to your test, and then do a session as close as possible to the start. You'll find yourself feeling calm and ready. 

For an audio guide on how to do PMR, click on the video below. Different guides may start at a different part of the body, so once you’ve mastered it, feel free to start at whichever muscle group you’re most comfortable with. Simply work through them all in order.

Try this now so you can get the hang of it before your big test or other stressful event. Remember, all your preparation is useless if you are too nervous to use it. So take a few minutes now and try PMR!

nerves [noun]—this is the noun form of being nervous.
racing thoughts [noun]—when a person's thinking is overly excited and that person can't focus on one thought.
inhale [verb]—to breathe in.
get the hang of it [idiom]—to understand and begin to be skillful at something.