Why We Need to Embrace Our Nerves

It’s the middle of the night. You’re sound asleep when suddenly ‘CRASH! BANG!’

You wake up with a start. Your heart is racing, your blood pressure’s pounding, your ears are alert, and your eyes are looking for answers.

Your thoughts kick in, “What’s was that? Has someone broken in? Should I go downstairs and check?”

What we see here is the brain communicating with us in two ways: with feelings — heart beating, alert ears — and with words. The feelings come from the emotional brain and the words come from the rational one.

The emotional brain communicates faster than the rational brain. This part of the brain — the amygdala — dates back to when we lived in caves and needed to avoid being eaten by big, bad beasts. It keeps us safe by constantly looking out for danger — just like a 24-hour security camera. It never sleeps.

It records everything we do along with the feelings we experience in each situation into a giant database. When we do some place new, our brain quickly scans these memories, “Have we been here before? If yes, how did we feel?” If it recalls a happy memory, it gives us the green light to go ahead. If it comes back with negative association, it warns us through our feelings to proceed with caution.

It remembers the time when you were little and the neighbour’s dog jumped at you, frightening you to death. It remembers that event along with the fear you felt. This explains why you still feel nervous when you see a dog nowadays: the brain recalls that incident and fills you with sufficient fear as a warning and sends adrenaline around the body to prepare you in case you need to run away.

It remembers that party when somebody brought a bottle of brandy. You tried some and it made you sick. Now, whenever you smell brandy, your brain reminds you that it’s not safe by filling you with feelings of nausea.

Most of the time, our lives are fairly routine: there’s little chance of being eaten by a big, bad beast. But the amygdala still kicks in when something is [a] unknown, [b] unusual or [c] unexpected to our normal, everyday lives.

It kicks in when we go for a client meeting or job interview [a] because we have no idea what they are going to ask us or how they will treat us. Likewise, we are likely to feel unnerved when we’re on an empty train late at night and a man with a face full of tattoos [b] gets on. This man could be a professor of physics for all we know but our brain senses he is different and may represent danger. And for examples of [c] unexpected events, look no further than our opening story of being rudely awakened in the middle of the night.

In each case, the nerves we feel is alerting us but unknown events like job interviews and driving tests CAN be managed through conscious preparation, visioning, breathing techniques. The nerves are there to tell us there is no previous experience to guide us, but that the body is prepared in case of danger. Nevertheless, the more job interviews you have, the more familiar you will become, and the fewer nerves you will feel.

The conclusion of this piece therefore is that we tune into what our bodies are telling us in order to learn what they are telling us, because these feelings are not to be feared but to be embraced. They are designed, It’s the middle of the night. You’re sound asleep when suddenly ‘CRASH! BANG!’

You wake up with a start. Your heart is racing, your blood pressure’s pounding, your ears are alert, and your eyes are looking for answers.

Your thoughts kick in, “What’s was that? Has someone broken in? Should I go downstairs and check?”

What we see here is the brain communicating with us in two ways: with feelings — heart beating, alert ears — and with words. The feelings come from the emotional brain and the words come from the rational one.

The emotional brain communicates faster than the rational brain. This part of the brain — the amygdala — dates back to when we lived in caves and needed to avoid being eaten by big, bad beasts. It keeps us safe by constantly looking out for danger — just like a 24-hour security camera. It never sleeps.

It records everything we do along with the feelings we experience in each situation into a giant database. When we do some place new, our brain quickly scans these memories, “Have we been here before? If yes, how did we feel?” If it recalls a happy memory, it gives us the green light to go ahead. If it comes back with negative association, it warns us through our feelings to proceed with caution.

It remembers the time when you were little and the neighbour’s dog jumped at you, frightening you to death. It remembers that event along with the fear you felt. This explains why you still feel nervous when you see a dog nowadays: the brain recalls that incident and fills you with sufficient fear as a warning and sends adrenaline around the body to prepare you in case you need to run away.

It remembers that party when somebody brought a bottle of brandy. You tried some and it made you sick. Now, whenever you smell brandy, your brain reminds you that it’s not safe by filling you with feelings of nausea.

Most of the time, our lives are fairly routine: there’s little chance of being eaten by a big, bad beast. But the amygdala still kicks in when something is [a] unknown, [b] unusual or [c] unexpected to our normal, everyday lives.

It kicks in when we go for a client meeting or job interview [a] because we have no idea what they are going to ask us or how they will treat us. Likewise, we are likely to feel unnerved when we’re on an empty train late at night and a man with a face full of tattoos [b] gets on. This man could be a professor of physics for all we know but our brain senses he is different and may represent danger. And for examples of [c] unexpected events, look no further than our opening story of being rudely awakened in the middle of the night.

In each case, the nerves we feel is alerting us but unknown events like job interviews and driving tests CAN be managed through conscious preparation, visioning, breathing techniques. The nerves are there to tell us there is no previous experience to guide us, but that the body is prepared in case of danger. Nevertheless, the more job interviews you have, the more familiar you will become, and the fewer nerves you will feel.

The conclusion of this piece therefore is that we tune into what our bodies are telling us in order to learn what they are telling us, because these feelings are not to be feared but to be embraced. They are designed, after all, to keep us safe.

***

Previously published on annaseabo.co on 15 February 2020.

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