What to Do If You Feel Nervous Before A Ride by Sarah Louise Lilley

What to Do If You Feel Nervous Before A Ride
Have you ever felt nervous before an MRC ride? Maybe it was your first ride with MRC? Maybe you’d never done a hunt before and you were feeling some anxiety? Maybe you’re a bit of an introvert and just meeting a lot of new people feels intimidating?

I hear you! I’ve been there. Totally normal. Let me explain.

But first a quick introduction….

I’m Sarah Louise Lilley, new to the MRC community and so grateful to have found it! I grew up in the UK, galloping all over the West Sussex Downs, and am thrilled to be able to join so many fun, adventurous rides again. I’m also an EFT (Emotional Focused Therapy) practitioner. EFT is a stress reduction technique which is a combination of Western cognitive therapy and Ancient Eastern Practise. You tap on acupressure points on your face and body while using cognitive statements I show creatives, athletes and performers who are stuck and struggling with anxiety, how to find freedom and confidence.

With the lovely Zengi after the Windy Hollow Hunt.

Ok back to those nerves...

The oldest part of your brain is the amygdala and its sole purpose is survival and protection. It only has two modes - flight/flight/freeze or rest. Anytime you do anything new or unknown where there’s a threat to your body, feelings or beliefs the amygdala will activate your nervous system. DO NOT DO THIS THING!

The problem is the amygdala can’t think, it can’t tell the difference between a real life-threatening threat like a tiger that's going to eat you, and a “scary” group of 50 new people. So it has these over-exaggerated responses to perceived threats because it thinks every threat is life threatening.

It can be helpful to acknowledge that you’ve a part of your brain that's designed to keep the status quo. It gives us permission to stop beating ourselves up when we get nervous about “silly” things.

I encourage clients to name that part of themselves which allows for compassion over judgement. I have a client who calls that part of herself Gertrude. When she feels that flight/flight/freeze activation and the negative self-talk that always follows it, she says, “Gertrude, I hear you, I appreciate you trying to keep me safe but I've got this. You’re welcome to stick around but I’m the boss here so you’ve gotta take a back seat.” This allows you to get some distance and acknowledge that those thoughts are NOT YOU, but automatic fear based thoughts from an old part of your brain.

So what are some quick, easy, practical tools you can use to re-center and calm yourself?

1. Exhale. Like. Really. Exhale.

So when we inhale we’re increasing our heart rate and when we exhale we’re slowing it down. It’s common knowledge to focus on your breath when you’re nervous but if you focus on talking big inhales you can actually increase your heart rate and make yourself more nervous.

Instead, focus on elongating the exhale which will slow your heart rate down and calm those fear based thoughts. There are some breathing patterns below and I encourage you to try them and see which works best for you.

Breath in for 6, out for 7
Breath in for 5, out for 6
Breath in for 5, out for 10
Breath in for 4, out for 8

2. Let’s talk about your tongue!

The nervous system can be divided into two parts. When we’re in a place of relaxation we’re in the parasympathetic nervous system aka “rest and digest” but when we have a fight/flight/freeze response the sympathetic nervous system is activated.

One way to move into that parasympathetic nervous system is to connect to one of it’s activation points, the vagus nerve, which runs from your skull all the way down to your gut. You can do that via the tongue which is attached to the vagus nerve.

As you’re reading this, without changing anything, just notice where your tongue is right now….

Most likely it’s tense and pushed to the roof of your mouth.

We want the opposite. We want to relax the tongue and let it lay on the bottom of the mouth, behind the bottom teeth. If you’re feeling nervous or stressed, I invite you to take a long exhale and allow your tongue to relax and rest on the bottom of your mouth.

3. The Perfect Tip for Horsey People!

If you’re feeling triggered, one way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system
quickly is horse lips...

You slowly blow through your lips allowing them to flutter. You can do it just with your breath or you can add a high or low pitched tone.

I have several clients who suffer from panic attacks and a practical tool, if you feel a panic attack coming on, is to do horse lips 10 times. It stimulates that Vagus nerve and tells your body it's safe to relax. (It also feels very silly so any kind of mental spiral you're stuck in will probably start to dissipate.)

So we’ve talked about exhaaaaaaaling, your tongue and using horse lips. As an EFT practitioner I would be remiss if I didn't cover the amazing power and benefits of EFT aka “tapping.” But I'll save that for another blog. Stay tuned…

In the meantime let me know which of these tools you try: exhaaaaaaling, relaxing your tongue or horse lips.

Happy Relaxed, Calm and Confident Riding!

Hope to see you soon


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