July 19, 2024
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On Feeling ‘Nervcited’

Five years ago, I sat with my youngest daughter the night before she left for her first year of sleep-away camp and asked, “Are you excited for tomorrow?” She had been talking about going away to camp since the previous summer, following her older sister’s footsteps, and counting down the days until she left. She looked at me and said, “Yes, but I’m also nervous. Is that so strange?” I told her that it wasn’t strange at all.

I explained that I see emotions as living in two categories—comfortable and uncomfortable. Emotions are neither bad nor good as they are our mind’s way of reacting to a situation. Some emotions, like happiness and excitement, feel comfortable in our bodies while others, like sadness and nervousness, feel uncomfortable.

The two most common feelings to feel together from the two lists are feeling excited and nervous. These two emotions almost always come together around the time of a new experience, like going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I told her that not only was it not strange, it was completely normal. She looked up at me and said “I think it should be called ‘nervcited.’ I’m feeling nervcited,” and with that, the word “nervcited” was born. Ask my children, students, clients, family or friends about “nervcited,” and they will know the story and the emotion.

The end of August/beginning of September is a time of school transitions. Children are nervcited about what lies ahead as they move up a grade, move to a new school, start high school, go off to yeshiva/seminary or begin college and graduate school. They think with excitement of all the perks they get as upperclassmen, the new classrooms they get to sit in, the fun they will have with their friends and the privileges that come with age and simultaneously, they think with nervousness of the added responsibilities, piles of homework, social pressures and hardships of growing up. Parents are nervcited on behalf of their children during those same changes—no matter how old a child we are discussing—and hold their breath, waiting to see how the year will play out.

I have found that many people try very hard to play up the “excited” part of new experiences and tone down the “nervous” part. I often hear people say, “Aren’t you excited to go to kindergarten?” or “I bet you can’t wait to head off to Israel for the year—you’re so lucky!”

When a child expresses fear, anxiety or nervousness (all closely related emotions) about his upcoming transition, many people instinctively point out the exciting parts, hoping to get the child hyped up and ready to start the new chapter in his life. The reasoning is that if you get excited enough about an upcoming event, you will no longer be nervous. This reasoning comes from the best of intentions but the result can be disastrous because feelings don’t just go away.

By neglecting the nervousness, by ignoring the fear, you can create an atmosphere where that child feels unable to express fear. The nervousness is invalidated and the potential of feeling like a failure is huge. Similarly, yet less common, if someone were to only focus on the nervous part of nervcited, in an attempt to help soothe the fearful person, they would be missing all the joy and excitement that is bubbling inside waiting for the new experience to start. That’s why it’s important to recognize nervcited.

So what do we do? How can we support and validate “nervcited” without only focusing on the comfortable or the uncomfortable feelings?

Ask, Don’t Assume: On the cusp of a new experience, our children appreciate being asked about what is going on for them. Do not assume that anyone is feeling a certain way or that one child will feel the same way that your other child(ren) felt during the same transition period. Instead of “Aren’t you excited to go to kindergarten?” ask “What are you feeling about going to kindergarten?” Substituting “I bet you can’t wait to head off to Israel for the year—you’re so lucky!” with “Going to Israel for the year can bring about so many thoughts and emotions—what’s it like for you?” will give the child the opportunity to talk about all of their thoughts and emotions without being locked into any expectations.

Listen and Hear: Once the question is asked, really listen to the answer and sometimes, even when the question hasn’t been asked, you need to listen for cues and comments that show the mix of emotions that are brewing inside. Hear all of what the child has to say without discrediting any part of it. Ask clarifying questions to truly understand the mix of emotions that someone is going through. Expressing one’s emotions in a healthy environment, within the safety of your family and friends, will lead to a happy, well-adjusted adult.

Validate Nervcited: People know emotions, but since this is a new (made up) one, you may need to explain the emotional mashup between excited and nervous. By explaining it and discussing how common it is, you are validating something that could have otherwise been very confusing and hard to deal with. Naming “nervcited” and defining it is often the first step to dealing with both emotions and getting through the situation in a healthy way.

It’s Not About You: Being there for someone else means letting go of your preconceived notions on any given topic. The parent who loved his high school experience and expects his child to be as excited as he remembers being must keep in mind that his child may one day also love high school with that same fervor or may not, but either way the beginning can be nervciting. Be in tune with your own emotions relating to the new experience and mentally set them aside so that you can be totally present for the person currently going through it.

Nervcited doesn’t only exist before school and camp. It’s an emotion that creeps up before a new job, when getting married, in the months of pregnancy, and so many more times. Adding nervcited to your list of possible emotions will help pinpoint a feeling that is a mix of comfortable and uncomfortable.Try it out today—I can’t wait to hear people using it like I do!


Tamar Sheffey, LCSW is the director of guidance at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA). She is a member of the OHEL Zachter Family National Trauma Center Response Team and has a private practice in Teaneck. Tamar can be reached at [email protected].

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