Cold feet. Jitters. Panic attacks. Stage fright. There are many names for a bad case of nerves. Yet research shows that knowing how to control your nerves can greatly improve your success in anything from a big game to a big presentation at work. So here are three levels of nervousness, and tips to conquer each one - according to sports psychologist Dr. Ross Wadey and Rodale publishing.

  • Nervous level #1: Your heart’s racing and you’ve got butterflies in your stomach. Dr. Wadey says a few pre-game jitters can actually be a good thing. Why? Those butterflies prove that you’re excited to be facing a new challenge! The trick is to redirect your excitement in a way that helps you win. So find a quiet spot, and vividly imagine all your past successes and achievements. You can even try telling yourself: “I am the greatest” in your best Muhammad Ali voice. Physiologically, the brain doesn’t know the difference between a real or imagined experience. So visualizing success will improve your odds of being successful.
  • The next level of nervousness: You suddenly feel weak, sluggish, or sick to your stomach. Dr. Wadey says that reaction comes from feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand. To conquer that kind of fear, divide your most intimidating goals into several smaller ones. Think of the marathon runner who focuses on finishing each individual mile, instead of the entire 26-mile race! Experts say setting small, realistic goals helps you perform better because you’ll build confidence and intensity with each new goal you achieve.
  • Here’s the 3rd level of nervousness: You’re so paralyzed by fear that you can’t move. To conquer that kind of anxiety, you need to come up with a dependable pre-game routine. Think of the baseball player who taps his bat three times on the ground before every pitch. Or the basketball player who crosses his chest with his hand right before each foul shot. Experts say repetitive thoughts and behaviors help promote blood flow, which quickly relaxes your body and sharpens your focus. So try a technique called progressive muscle relaxation. Start by tensing your toes for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Then work your way up, tensing other muscle groups, until your whole body relaxes.