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Performance anxiety is normal: nearly everyone feels nervous every now and then.

70% of Finns have sometimes felt nervous before appearing in front of an audience, 30% of students in higher education feel nervous about it, and 10% of them get so nervous that it may hinder their studies. When you appear in front of an audience, your sympathetic nervous system makes you more alert, providing you with energy and preparing you to perform. Being alert is required for good interaction with others. Often those who get nervous find activation of the sympathetic nervous system unwelcome and disruptive. 

Nervousness may manifest itself in student life as avoiding speaking during lectures or in group situations, skipping lectures and/or difficulty establishing friendships and relationships. This in turn may hinder the development of social skills.

Nervousness that significantly affects a person’s ability to function in social situations is referred to as social anxiety. Social anxiety is mainly about the fear of being criticised or humiliated.

The feeling of nervousness varies from one person to another, but can be really overpowering. Other people usually don’t consider the symptoms as severe as you’d think. They may not even notice the symptoms, or if they do, they tend to forget them quickly.

Our experiences with relationships and tricky life situations affect our confidence in our own abilities. Those who get nervous may feel that others haven’t trusted their abilities or haven’t provided enough support in difficult situations. It’s important that we respect feelings of nervousness, learn to recognise them and understand that they are natural.

Many people who get nervous demand a lot from themselves and have low self-confidence. They often consider their demands reasonable and even normal, and have an unclear or contradictory view of their communication skills. Building a realistic view on one’s communication skills could be an important way to reduce anxiety.

 How to reduce nervousness

  • Think about how you could be more compassionate towards yourself. Try to be realistic and see things in proportion. Remember that nobody needs to be perfect. You can focus your attention on your successes, as gaining positive experiences will help you to see yourself in a realistic way.
  • Practise your interaction skills at a pace that suits you, in daily interactive situations for instance. You can set yourself a modest but clear target for each week. By running away you just worsen your fear – by returning to the situation you can boost your confidence; you can handle the situation!
  • Use your power of imagination: go through the situation in your mind in a relaxed setting.
  • It’s good to learn to talk about your anxiety and fears to a friend or someone else you can trust instead of hiding your feelings.
  • Try to think how nice it’ll be tomorrow when the situation is over. The idea that the situation is only temporary may relax you and help you in the future.
  • Some people feel more relaxed when there’s humour involved and they can laugh at themselves.
  • Take particularly good care of your well-being. Remember that relaxation is not a permanent fixture and that you need to stick to your healthy routines and habits all year round. Sufficient sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising and spending time outdoors, a manageable workload and balanced relationships all promote your well-being.