Even though not much is happening, you still feel tense. You're nervous about something in your life. Maybe you're nervous about someone you care about, about your own safety or about how others are going to see you socially. Perhaps you're not even sure why you're nervous, but you clearly feel that way anyway.
Those with anxiety often have worrisome thoughts alongside their feelings of nervousness. Anxiety itself can both create and exacerbate this nervousness.
- Anxiety can change how you think so that you find yourself nervous without an objectively justifiable reason. For example, you may be sitting alone in your room and suddenly worry that someone is outside looking at you, or that someone you know may get into a car accident. You may also just feel that something is wrong, even if you can’t figure out what. Not only will you have these worries, but they feel justifiable. No one can tell you that they are irrational.
- Anxiety may also make normal nervousness worse. For example, you may have a big test tomorrow that you didn’t study for, which creates justifiable nerves. But a person with anxiety may worry that they’ll flunk, that they’ll be kicked out of college, or that they’ll embarrass themselves.
- Anxiety changes thought patterns, and this can make you feel as though there is something to worry about even when you need not feel that way. For example, you experience chest pain and see a doctor. The doctor says nothing is wrong, and that it is probably anxiety. No matter how much you trust your doctor, you can’t help but feel nervous that they missed something - even though you know you have anxiety.
These are all examples of the ways that anxiety can both create nervousness and make nervousness worse.
Uncontrolled Nervous Thoughts
Nervousness is actually a healthy reaction. If you didn’t get nervous, you would take many more risks and possibly put yourself in danger. Nervousness is a tool that your body uses to let you know that you should be afraid, and without it you'd have no idea that you need to fight or flee to protect yourself from a threat.
How to Tell if Your Nervous Thoughts Are Out of Control
What makes anxiety frustrating at first is that many people do not know they have it. Their nervous thoughts feel completely normal. When someone develops anxiety, they may notice that they find more and more things to inspire feelings of nervousness. Yet to them, these are genuinely anxiety-producing stimuli.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may experience physical symptoms, including the following:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea or feelings of illness
- Shortness of breath
These physical symptoms a may be a sign that your anxiety is getting worse. Furthermore, those with anxiety often struggle to control their own nervous thoughts and may experience worst-case-scenario thinking that others cannot easily talk them out of.
For example, a person with anxiety may get an increase in their heart rate, and instead of ignoring it or assuming the explanation is simple (like too much caffeine), they may fear they’re having a heart attack. Even if a part of them knows they have anxiety, it can still be hard to turn off this type of thinking.
This sort of thinking pattern, paired with a feeling of nervousness and physical symptoms, may indicate that you’re suffering from a very real anxiety problem, especially if these experiences make it hard for you to live a normal life. But fortunately, these sorts of problems can be controlled!
Ways to Treat Nervousness
How can you control your nervous thoughts? Simply trying to push them away doesn’t work. Numerous psychological studies have confirmed that it's impossible to force yourself to not think about something. In fact, some studies have shown that trying not to think about something may make you more likely to think about it, because you'll have to keep reminding yourself not to think about it, thus triggering the memory
So ideally, you need to find a strategy that will control the nervousness, but not necessarily eliminate it, and thankfully there are a lot of very effective options for stopping nervous thinking. These include:
- Writing the Thoughts Out. Does it ever feel as if the same nervous thought is passing through your mind, over and over again? It’s almost as if your brain is terrified that you’ll forget about this thought; and so it keeps asking you to pay attention to the idea. This is a common symptom for people suffering from nervousness - and these thoughts can make the nervousness even worse. By writing out your thought on a piece of paper or journal, you'll essentially be taking the information out of your brain and putting it in a more permanent place. For some, this can provide relief by giving your mind permission to let go of the thought.
- Go Jogging. Physical tension is a common sign of anxiety and this in itself can be enough to trigger nervous thoughts. You can tackle both issues at once, simply by going for a jog. Running tires the muscles in a way that can reduce the number of anxiety symptoms you experience and possibly improve your ability to cope with anxiety.
- Mental Distractions You can't force yourself to stop thinking a thought. But you can make it much harder to have that thought because your focus is on so many different things. Give yourself mental distractions by turning on the TV (to something happy, of course) and doing some art or crafts. This type of combination distracts all of your senses, and makes it harder to focus on negative thoughts.
There are several relaxation strategies that may be effective as well, although these often need to be practiced until they become second nature. Furthermore, they need to be done correctly in order to have an effect. Some of the most popular techniques include:
- Mantra Meditation - This is the act of meditation that combines with using a word, like “OM,” that you repeat over and over to yourself slowly. The value of this word, or “mantra,” is that it eliminates outside noise and calms nervous thinking, while the meditation helps you relax.
- Deep Breathing - This is a relaxation exercise that helps you breathe from your belly rather than from your chest and replenish your CO2 levels while relaxing your heartbeat. It involves breathing in slowly through the nose, holding for a few seconds, and then breathing out slowly through the mouth.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation - This method of relaxation utilizes the mind/body connection. It involves tensing one muscle at a time starting from your foot all the way to your head, and then releasing the muscle. This tires out muscles which is believed to relax the mind as well.
- Visualization - Visualization involves imagining yourself in another location through all 5 senses. Picture yourself in a relaxing place, focus on the sights, sounds, smells, and feel, and essentially transport yourself to a new and relaxing world.
- Yoga - Yoga is believed to help re-train the body to breathe more efficiently, provide exercise benefits, and be a calming experience that many people find relaxing.
Talk to Someone
Therapy is an incredibly valuable tool for controlling nervous thoughts, because it directly combats faulty thought processes. But for those that aren’t able to see a therapist, talking to someone that cares about you can be the next best thing. Not only will you get input from someone important in your life - you'll also find it harder to focus on what makes you nervous when you're talking to someone on the phone or in person.
These strategies may not stop nervous thinking forever,but they can help ensure that you're not as affected by your nervous thoughts. Each one of these is a tool that decreases the amount of focus and attention you place on those thoughts, making it easier to deal with the subsequent anxiety symptoms.
How to Stop Nervous Thinking in the Long Term
Those that are nervous all the time need to treat their anxiety like they would any health condition. Often, this is a matter of committing to getting some support from a trained professional. Just as you wouldn't treat serious illnesses haphazardly, the only way to find relief from anxiety is to give it special attention; and to make sure that you're using all the tools at your disposal to find the best way of coping with your anxiety symptoms.