The Rider’s Mind Podcast Episode 135: Your Nerves Are Not The Enemy

So often we think of our nerves, our nervousness, as something super negative and something that we don’t want to have. But I really want to shift your perspective on this and have you recognize that your nervous system is working for you. Once you get to know it a little better, to know how to massage this energy into something that is going to serve you well and help you achieve your ideal performance state. I think you’ll see how your nerves are not your enemy, but an energy to work with as an ally.

As the intro indicated, we’re going to be talking about your nerves, how they’re really not your enemy and actually how you can use your nervousness, your nervous energy, as a benefit as an ally. And if that seems like a stretch, maybe I get asked all the time. How? How do I not be so nervous? How do I get rid of these nerves? And you know what?

I don’t think we really want to get rid of them, and I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. Either we have nerves, we have a nervous system for a reason. It is a protective mechanism for us. I think what we can do a little bit differently is be aware of the stories we tell about our nerves and our nervous system, and that will help us manage them, use them to our benefit. Instead of telling stories that disempower us through this natural nervous system that we have, we tell stories about our nerves like they’re a villain, like there’s something that we need to slay. I’m so nervous. I would just be so good if I wasn’t nervous or I’ve got to get a grip on this, or I’m such a mess. I’m so nervous and maybe we don’t say things, these things out loud, but maybe we’re thinking them in our heads, the stories that we tell ourselves and we shame ourselves because of how we feel and we decide that we’re no good because we have these nervous or we recognize that we can’t think when our nerves take over. And you know what I’ve been there.

I have been the person throwing up behind the tree. I have been the person that practices at home and everything is so clear and perfect and concise and thinking, and then getting to a barrel race and essentially leaving my brain at the gate and coming out to pick it up and not know exactly what happened in the arena. I know what that’s like, but also through my journey, through overcoming that and learning how to work with my nerves, I’ve been able to use this energy to find my ideal performance state for each horse and each different scenario that I’m set up in. But I do think that we have to be careful about these stories that we tell about our nerves and the stories that we tell about ourselves because of our nerves, because they can essentially become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we’re not careful, if we’re seeing I’m such a mess or, oh no, I’m nervous. This is going to go bad. Or last time I was like this, this happened and basically setting ourselves up for that, because energy really does flow where attention goes, and if we’re focusing on how nervous we are and how horrible this is, we’re going to get more of that and we’re going to see more of that.

Your nerves really are not the enemy, they’re not something that we should look at getting rid of. They are part of your body’s physiology. They are there for a reason. You, you are doing something that is alarming to our nervous system. You’re going out there, putting yourself on display whether you’re being judged or whether you’re being timed on a clock there is a judgment, whether it’s from someone else or your own judgment, or whether or not you’re going to decide whether you’ve done good or whether you’ve done bad. Based on the result and that outcome, you’re setting yourself up for this judgment that is going to be triggering to your nervous system.

I talk a lot about not judging yourself, not making things good or bad. That’s egos territory. But looking at, as you know, being enjoyable, experiencing, having fun out there, but back to the nerves. What do we actually call nerves right like I am nervous? Oh, my nerves are getting the best of me. What’s really happening here is essentially an activation of your sympathetic nervous system. The dial is getting turned up on your nervous system and this is happening for a reason, because you’re about to do something big, something that’s exciting, and you actually, if you’re competing in a speed event or something that requires some performance, some finesse, some energy, well, you do need to have some edge. You need to have some sharpness. You want some activation of your nervous system. The alternative, this to this, is being in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is rest and digest, which is, you know, sitting and chilling and being super relaxed. Well, there’s not a lot of equine sporting events where you want to show up with the same energy that you have when you’re watching television. You need a little bit of jazz in your performance. So therefore you do want to be activated into your nervous system and, to your sympathetic, it’s this ability and your resilience to move in and out of this activation is what helps you find your ideal performance state, so that you’re not stuck in that sympathetic nervous system.

So what I really want to encourage you to do today is, instead of making our nerves the enemy, we want to learn more about them. We want to learn how to partner with your nervous system and make your nervous system an ally. We have a nervous system for a reason. Sometimes we’re not that kind to our nervous system. This nervous system is part of our body. Without it we would be in big trouble. It is part of this system that is divinely created. So everything works well. If we, our nervous system is connected to our heart, it’s connected to our digestion. You know, like. Without it we would be in big trouble. So be careful speaking negatively to your nervous system, because you really need it. The most obvious is that our nervous system alerts us to danger. It is basically a sensory organ where it feels things. You know you’re walking down a street and you go to turn down a dark alley and your nervous system senses this is a dangerous place and position to be in. We need this. We need the sensory organ for our balance, for proprioception so that we can sense others in communication and relationships. It is where we access our gut feelings from.

We need our nervous system, but what we don’t need is it to be so activated into the stress response, into the sympathetic response that we’re certain areas of our nervous system essentially shut down to preserve other areas. So say, for example, if you are so far into your sympathetic nervous system, your nervous system might interpret this as being chased by a saber-toothed tiger where all of your blood comes out from your peripheral, from your extremities and pools in your, in, your diaphram, in your stomach area, shots down digestion. It’s also going to shut down your thinking so that you can only react. So this is going to be difficult when you’re trying to think through your run, think through your ride, because you are over activated and over stimulated.

We want to be able to access this sympathetic activation, but to be able to then dial it back down into rest and digest. And one problem that we have is a lot of people are just in stress, in the activation of sympathetic all the time and they don’t go into rest, they get stuck. So this is when you end up with problems affecting your adrenal glands. Your nervous system basically gets tired and when this happens you could end up having actual health problems because your nervous system gets overstimulated. Now there is also over stimulated in the sense of, if you think of a kid, at the end of the day, when it’s bedtime, but they’re overtired and they they get extra hyper or they’re they’re overstimulated, they’re over activated and I wouldn’t say this is necessarily in the danger zone.

But that is also, you know, say, if you’re over stimulated and then you go and try and compete, say you’re barrel racing or jumping and you might get kind of edgy and handy and not in control of your body because your nervous system is kind of like a live wire. We need to learn to regulate as needed, and I’ve mentioned this dial before, but we want to be able to die to just the ideal, just the perfect level of activation for competition, and I would call this your ideal performance state, where you can find the zone without blanking out or blacking out. Some people are just walking around, wired for speed, with the walking around with their volume, their dile cranked real high right. And then there is also this thing that happens where you’re dialed so high that basically you blow your speakers and you shut down. This would be called dorsal vagal shutdown and you shut down, disassociate, disconnect.

This might be when you’re over stimulated in competition, you ride right up in the warm up pen and then your body basically says this is too much danger. Danger shuts down the thinking part of your head and you go into the dorsal vagal.   You go and make your run, you come out and you haven’t been able to think the entire run. You’re basically in survival mode. We all have a zone of tolerance, a window of tolerance within our nervous system where we can turn the dial up and we can turn the dial down and we’re recovering and we have the safe zone where everything just works. Fantastic.

Stress is going to dial up into the nervous system, but stress is not bad: small doses of stress and then coming back down up and down, having this good resilience of activation and then recovery in the nervous system. This is what’s going to increase your zone of your window of tolerance in small boat doses and teach your body to go up and down up and down, being able to take pressure and then coming down off of it. Increasing your resiliency throughout your nervous system is the key to being able to say: move up into higher levels of competition gradually and then, when you get there, be able to handle it instead of having to go back and start from square one because you shut down because it was too much.

Stress is not bad. Nerves are not bad. Remember, it’s the story that we tell about them and then, whether we’re working with them as allies or enemies, you want to be able to find this sweet spot, this zone where you’re not outside of your window of tolerance, your zone of tolerance in competition, and that you still have the skills to regulate your nervous system. To get yourself back into this sweet spot in this, this window where you can be a better friend or a better ally with your nervous system. And part of this. This key is to learn how to rest your nervous system, to learn how to reset your nervous system and to learn how to regulate it. Get to know your nervous system so that you gain an awareness of where you’re at within it. I mean it hasn’t been forever that I knew to think about where am I in my nervous system? Rest. Take a deep breath. I have different eye relaxation exercises. Perhaps you might meditate, perhaps you might go for a walk, perhaps you might recognize that you just need to step away from something for a minute. You need to be able to tune into your own nervous system and see where you’re at, to increase your ability to have this dial set just to the right place to find your ideal performance, sit state and step in the one. You need to know where your volume dial is turned up. There’s certain triggers that are going to turn it up superfast. So you’ve got to be able to be aware of that and recognise that so that you can move up and down within this window of tolerance of your nervous system.

Some people, like I said, are stuck on low and they actually need to practice this activation. I’ve spoken a lot about you know being too activated and being super nervous, but some people are walking around, really actually disconnected and dissociated from that and would be that person. That’s cool as a cucumber, but then be disappointed. Where the horse had no fire, there was no aliveness, there was no zip. Well, that’s because they didn’t bring that, because they were essentially shut down within their nervous system. So some people need to practice actually having some healthy stress, bringing themselves up manually. Perhaps it’s going for a sprint before you get on your horse to raise your heart right up. Maybe it’s doing some jumping jacks. Maybe it is some fire-breathing exercises to bring some activation to your nervous system. Being aware of how wide your nervous system is, your window of tolerance within your nervous system is important.

Is it small? Can you only handle a little bit of stress, a little bit, little bit, little bit before you have to come back? Or can you expand this window of tolerance that you can handle? Or can you go up high? Because you know there you have different tools to bring yourself down and then you can rest this. If you have previously had a really poor relationship with nervousness, poor sin, you’ve thought of it as an enemy. You might need to do some relationship rebuilding, because when you get into your nerves, when you become a little bit nervous, you might end up going back to these old stories. So it might take some real relationship rebuilding. But in doing so you are going to be able to use this energy for something that is of benefit, so that you can find your ideal performance state with more ease. And I feel like each horse that you ride is going to require a different energy of you.

So as you ride more, ride different horses, more horses, you will recognize this and even different arenas, different setups or are going to require you to show up with a different energy. And as you increase your ability to move in and out, to be able to turn this dial to just the right places, you’re going to increase your ability to find your ideal performance date for each horse for each scenario. So I do encourage you to make your nerves, your friend, your ally, so that you can work together to find the ideal activation, because you don’t want to be showing up with no nerves, no energy. I mean this energy that you have. I mean we could talk about changing it into excitement, changing it into a different energy. But really to me it is about swapping what you feel about it and what you do with it, so you can massage it into an energy that’s actually going to serve you in your performance.

This is not couchsurfing, this is a performance where you do need to bring it, where you do want to bring the energy. So I hope that this shift in perspective is helpful so that you can use this energy as something for good. It’s just knowing how to massage it into something that serves you well, the right level.

Now, if you haven’t already, you might be interested in downloading my three part mini course. It’s called Next Level Mindset. You can download it at That will also get you on my newsletter list so you can be informed of each and every podcast episode that is released. You might also like to stay up-to-date on my social media pages, Michelle Davey, on both Facebook and Instagram, or find the Free Rider’s Mind community Group on Facebook, and we can connect there. Thanks for listening. We’ll catch you on the next episode, breathe deep, stay present and ride the stride.

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