Book Review: ‘Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool’

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‘Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool’

By Taylor Clark, Little, Brown and Company $25.99 320 pages

BALTIMORE, MD — Imagine that everybody’s naked.

No, wait, that won’t work. That’s just going to make you feel more self-conscious. And taking deep breaths only makes you lightheaded.

Why in the world did you volunteer to give a report to the CEOs? Whatever gave you the idea that you could cold-call or do client presentations or organize the company retreat? What were you thinking?

Feeling a little nervous? Then wipe off those sweaty palms, grab “Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool” by Taylor Clark and prepare to boldly bare your bravery.

Long ago, when business suits were made of pelts, nature bestowed the gift of fear upon our ancestors. When faced with danger, their brains took over, adrenaline flooded their bodies, and they were able to flee without dumbly having to consider the sharpness of a raging mastodon’s tusks or the accuracy of an incoming javelin.

But talk about pressure. Our ancestors never had to make a cross-town meeting in 15 minutes through rush-hour traffic. They never had a stock market to watch, and the ol’ cave probably didn’t have a mortgage. Those ancient natural brain reactors are still within us, but modern life has made our anxiety keener.

The truth is, though, that fear is all in your head — literally. In both hemispheres of your brain, there’s an almond-shaped spot called the amygdala, a kind of Fear Headquarters in the noggin. The amygdala not only subconsciously monitors your surroundings 24/7, but it also decides if it’s time for fight, flight or, as Clark points out, freezing — which is the third F in the fear factor.

Telling yourself to relax only makes things worse, and you can’t avoid stressors in real life, so what can you do to hold off the heebie-jeebies?

Though it sounds pathetically easy, breathe. Many times, after the crisis passes, you’ll notice you haven’t been doing that. Talk things out, or write them down. Prepare yourself for what could happen, and practice. Act brave. Embrace uncertainty and accept lack of control. Try the STOP method. And if all else fails, learn to laugh at yourself: humor really is a good stress reliever.

Feeling fidgety about the future? Are you a basket-case over business these days? Then you’ll want to read this book, because what you’ll learn in “Nerve” really can help you feel a little calmer and braver.

Clark isn’t afraid to dig deep inside our heads to look at the physiological reasons for fear, and he makes the science easy to understand. He interviewed people who were under tremendous stress, yet had learned to squash their mousiness and summon their moxie.

He offers expert advice that will make you feel like an office warrior and through it all, Clark takes his own advice and makes us laugh.

Fear is often irrational. Worrying is a waste of time, since 90 percent of it won’t come true. Anxiety can be overcome with practice. “Nerve” is worth reading — and that’s the bare truth.

Book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 and never goes anywhere without a book. Her columns run every other week in the Business Journal.