Breathing Through The Butterflies: How To Manage Nerves

Butterflies in the stomach, heart-rate increasing, jittery limbs. We all know the feeling. It is our body's way of responding to a perceived stressful or important situation. To learn more about the physiological arousal that accompanies "nerves," check out this quick ASAPScience video.

How an athlete interprets these physiological sensations can have an incredible impact on performance. This can be an uncomfortable feeling and some may perceive their nerves with panic and worry. The best athletes recognize this arousal as a sign that their body is gearing up to perform. They channel this arousal to aid, not hinder, their performance.

I've never been afraid of big moments. I get butterflies… I get nervous and anxious, but I think those are all good signs that I'm ready for the moment. -- NBA star Stephen Curry

So, how can you channel your nerves to help you compete at your best when the "pressure" is on? Some of the mental skills we've already discussed like mental imagery, strong self-talk, and progressive muscle relaxation can all help. 

Today we will add deep breathing to your arsenal. Next time you watch a top-level basketball player at the free-throw line or an experienced swimmer behind the block, try to notice the deep, diaphragmatic breaths they take immediately before the task. Taking a few deep breaths can lead athletes to feeling calm and in control. 

The key is making sure one gets a full breath that contracts the diaphragm (a muscle under the lungs) causing the stomach to rise, and minimally raises ones chest and shoulders. Awareness of how you are breathing (diaphragmatic vs. short, shallow breaths) is critical for channeling one's nerves for an optimal performance.  

How To Improve Your Deep Breathing Skills

  1. First lie down or sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Take in a few deep breaths and focus on feeling your stomach rise more than your chest.
  2. Spend five minutes a day focusing on your breathing with the above exercise.
  3. Use other relaxation and breathing exercises on apps like Pacifica, Lucid, and Smiling Mind.
  4. Add diaphragmatic breathing to your mental imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and pre-race routines.

Embrace your butterflies with excitement and know your body is telling you it is ready to perform. Structure your self-talk around this belief. Use relaxation and confidence techniques like mental imagery to prepare you for those moments right before a performance. Finally, breath through the butterflies by channeling your nerves with deep diaphragmatic breaths.

---

Andrew "Chip" Augustus is the senior swim coach at Cardinal Aquatics in Louisville, Kentucky. Chip graduated from Centre College in 2011, where he swam, with degrees in history and psychology. He earned his M.Ed. in counseling psychology from the University of Louisville in 2016. Chip volunteers with Dr. Vanessa Shannon, UL's Director of Mental Performance. He works on his own mental skills by swimming masters and competing in triathlons; he completed the 2016 Louisville Ironman.

Why Adam Peaty's World Record Proves the Future is Bright

So far, this century has produced a multitude of record-breaking and multi-time medal-winning swimmers. Obviously, the great Michael Phelps comes to mind quickly. While undoubtedly the most successful Olympian of all, Phelps didn’t achieve a feat recently met by a younger swimmer.

2018 European Championships: Sarah Sjoestroem Highlights Top 5 To Watch

In the absence of the Olympics or World Championships, the off summer is traditionally dubbed as the least exciting in swimming. Yet, the world is still taking to international competitions, albeit not all against each other.

Top Swimmers To Watch: 2018 TYR ISCA Summer Senior Championships

The ISCA Summer Senior Championships in St. Petersburg, Florida, offers a great end-of-season championship for many of the countries best up-and-coming swimmers. Hosted outdoors at the North Shore Aquatic Complex, nearly 600 swimmers will compete from Tuesday to Saturday. 

Girls Brackets Feature Serious Talent At USA Water Polo Jr. Olympics

Over 350 girls club water polo teams have now taken the place of the boys, who completed the first session of the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics on Tuesday in Stanford, CA. Session two action gets underway on Thursday after the United Cozy Boys took home the 18U boys title after a tight and nervy win over a highly motivated Stanford club in the day's most anticipated championship.

2018 Junior Olympics Crowns 12-18U Boys Medalists From Session 1

Session One of the 2018 Water Polo National Junior Olympics has come to a close in the San Jose, CA, and Stanford areas with champions crowned in multiple divisions across various age groups on Tuesday. Stanford University's Avery Aquatic Center played host to the highest level medal matches in the Championship Division. 

Ryan Lochte Banned 14 Months After Sharing Photo Of IV Treatment

U.S. swimming star and 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte has accepted a 14-month ban from competition for receiving an intravenous infusion without a therapeutic use exemption, USADA announced today.

5 Things To Watch At 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships

Team USA’s top talent will take to the pool this week in Irvine, CA, in front of a crowd that’s excited to have the Phillips 66 National Championships back in Southern California for the first time since 2014.

USA Water Polo Jr. Olympics: Top 18U Teams Primed For 4-Day Battle

By James E. Smith

The biggest age group water polo tournament in the nation is about to start on Saturday in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hundreds of teams from throughout the nation will descend on Silicon Valley and environs for the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. 

2018 USA Water Polo National Jr. Olympics: Everything You Need To Know

The largest age-group water polo tournament in the nation gets underway in San Jose this weekend at the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. Over the course of nine days, more than 750 teams from across the country will compete on the national stage during a pair of four-day sessions.

USA Water Polo National Jr. Olympics: Complete Live-Streaming Schedule

FloSwimming is live-streaming the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics for the first time in event history, starting on the morning of Saturday, July 21, through the end of competition on Sunday, July 29.