Part 2 – Nervous
You can read Part 1 here.
If at the end of this you forget everything, please remember these at least: Telling anxiety to go away will not make it go away and saying ‘calm down’ is the most useless thing you can do to someone who is anxious.
After the Indonesian Future Leaders Connect (FLC) Heat Event back on 28 August 2019, one of the British Council judges said to me, “You have done this before. I can tell.” A statement, not a question. He meant talking or performing in front of an audience, I knew.
Yes, I have done it before.
Since I became a Psychologist, I most often 1) present a topic in psychology or about mental health with the aid of a Powerpoint Presentation. Every now and then I 2) sing a one or two songs in a cafe (when I feel like it) or at a friend’s wedding. Pretty much all my life, I am a member of a choir. I recently performed with Paragita. The numbers were coreographed; a new challenge for me because I’m not a dancer. Last but not least, I have also performed in 3) plays or musicals. I finally returned to the theatrical stage this year with Jakarta Players, after a long hiatus.
I LOVE IT. Performing. The spotlight. The heat, in every sense, does not scare me. It makes me feel alive. I recently confessed that I f*cking love performing, because “so much” is an understatement. But this does not mean I have never been nervous.
Nervous is a form of anxiety. You (Indonesians) probably use the term ‘deg-degan’ more often.
If you haven’t noticed, ‘delivering a speech’ is not on the list of performances I am used to doing. That’s because I don’t like it, let alone love. I have said, time and time again, that I would rather sing for 3 hours by myself than deliver a 5-minute speech without prompt. Thanks, but no thanks.
I am a planned person. I buy a new toothpaste before the old one runs out. I have Plan ABCD for everything. If we (you and I) make Plan A together and you cancel, my world will not crumble, because I have for sure made Plan B, which is Plan A that I can execute by myself. And I’ve analyzed that this is why I don’t love delivering speeches without aid. Especially when there is a time limit. The uncertain, uncontrollable possibilities are endless with this art.
I recently came across a Kahlil Gibran quote which perfectly explains the root of my occasional nerves: Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.
It’s so true, yo. I always want to know what’s next. I always want to know what step I have to take. I am only anxious when I feel like I don’t have control of what’s to come. That’s why I plan so much! When in fact, there are so many more things in life that we cannot control, compared to the ones we can.
(Un)Lucky for this “seasoned” performer, her fate recently depended on doing something she had limited control over. She had to ace a 5-minute aid-less speech in front of over 200 people to secure a prestigious spot as a Future Leaders Connect Member.
Long story short, I nailed it.
The judges’ words, not mine. But not without setting free some butterflies in my stomach first. I successfully convinced 3 judges and a few hundred people that mental health is extremely important. But I almost puked three times while waiting for my turn. Yes guys, the Karina Negara who you think is always so confident was that nervous!
Chronologically, my heart started beating faster as soon as I arrived at the backstage of the National Library of Indonesia. That was 8.30 am. According to the schedule, my turn would be at around 11.30. So. Yea. Yea. I was semi-suffering for a few hours. Deg-degan.
After the physical changes occurred, I started moving and rehearsing quietly several times to reduce the nervous feeling. The thing I did which also helped with the anxiety was breathing in the air on stage and absorb its energy before the audience entered the hall. What??? Yes. When the auditorium was still empty, I stood center stage, on the designated mark, closed my eyes, spread my arms up and wide, and breathed in that position for 10 seconds. I then sweeped the room with my eyes, to estimate how much I would need to move and look around while delivering my speech. No, I didn’t just wing it.
I practiced my speech from days before. I recorded myself and listened to the recording in the car because I spend a lot of my time driving. I do live in Jakarta. I recite my speech to match the recording, over and over again, and of course eventually tried performing the speech without audio aid. Alone in my car, hands on the wheel, I recited that speech like my life depended on it.
Being as prepared as I can be is how I usually am able to maintain my anxiety at a low, manageable level.
Preparing for the Indonesian FLC Heat Event 2019 was no different.
But I also want to share about how I calmed my nerves more instantly and immediately. Remember when I said I almost puked three times because I was so nervous? I was sitting in the audience, watching another finalist deliver their speech. The first thing I did when the nerves kicked harder was say, “I am nervous.” Silently because I couldn’t make a sound. “I am nervous that I might forget my speech, go overtime, and generally mess up,” I added. The first thing I did when I was so nervous I wanted to vomit was acknowledge my anxiety, and for me, it worked wonders. The nerves did not go away yet, but it was significantly lower.
I then started to look around for comfort. Mom was not there (by my choice) and I couldn’t run to her even if she was. So I made do with what I could find. Something to stand on and something to touch. Still seated, I planted both feet on the ground and stroked the fabric on the armrest of my seat. No, my feet were not on the ground before. I’m short. Sitting back often means my feet dangling in the air. Seconds after, the unnecessary nerves almost completely went away. In hindsight, I should have stepped on the ground barefoot. I’m pretty sure the effect would be more significant that way.
The final thing I did to calm my anxiety, my nerves was acknowledge and accept the realities of my immediate future.
“You won’t deliver the speech perfectly,” I told myself. “You have prepared all you can, but you will probably mess up a bit… and it’s okay.” I then continued by reassuring myself that not getting selected will not be the end of my world. Not getting selected will not mean that I am not good enough or that I am a failure. It will simply mean this is not the door God will open for me. I will be disappointed, of course, if I don’t get selected, but I will bounce back and continue to live my wonderful life
The nerves went away as soon as I all these sink in and truly believe it. Anxiety comes when we want to control the future.
So I stopped trying to control the future and tried to manage my response to it instead. I filled my thoughts with the truth to fight irrational beliefs. Don’t let your nerves hinder you. Don’t hesitate to talk about your feelings. Emotion regulation is not a skill we are born with. Learn it for yourself, your loved ones, and for the sake of your children someday.
When anxiety comes, don’t tell it to go away. Feel it, process it. Never deny your feelings.