Everyone has probably experienced the feeling of butterflies in their stomach at some point. This classic metaphor describes the sensation of a “tickling” or “fluttery” feeling in the stomach that is generally associated with nervous excitement.
The sensation of butterflies is most likely caused by the release of epinephrine from the adrenal glands, which causes a chemical reaction in your body often associated with “fight or flight.” Epinephrine causes blood from non-essential body processes (like digestion) to be redirected to more immediate resources like the brain and muscles. This temporary loss of blood to the stomach is probably the reason for a number of symptoms of nervousness: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and butterflies.
Generally, people would rather not experience butterflies before a big meet or event because they can be distracting, make you lose confidence, or second-guess how prepared you are. However, David Bellinger, a sport performance consultant with Excellence in Sport Performance (Pleasanton, CA) recently wrote an article for Gymnastike titled “Making Those Butterflies Fly In Formation” (link).
In his article, Bellinger says that “nervousness is only a problem if it prevents you from performing your best,” and explains that being nervous shows that you care about something or that it is important to you (like doing well in competition). It’s much easier to manage a few butterflies than it is to deal with a complete lack of effort, or apathy towards competition.
“If you have butterflies in your stomach, the goal is not necessarily to get rid of all of them, but to get them to fly together in formation. You want to get the optimal amount of nervousness for you, and then channel your nervous energy into helping you perform your best.” (source)
Everyone has their own optimal energy level that will help set themselves up for the best possible performance. Identifying how you feel when you perform your best is the first step in managing your nervous energy. You wouldn’t want to decrease your nerves to the point that you don’t care about the competition, or increase your nervous energy to the point you get distracted and jittery. Finding your optimal balance is the key.
David Bellinger is a contributing blogger at Gymnastike (a gymnastics mirror to FloSwimming). You can find more of his articles HERE. Also check out related sport psychology content here on Kast-A-Way Blog.