Are you feeling nervous about taking your first Polygraph exam? Relax; it’s not going to be as bad as you think. Unless you’ve done something wrong, there’s no reason you need to panic about it. If you have committed a crime, then you’re in trouble. Despite what people have told you, you have almost no chance of beating a polygraph exam.

In most cases, you’ve done nothing wrong. For instance, your boss may have uncovered embezzlement at your financial firm. He brings each person in your department into his office to inform you that the entire team is undergoing a polygraph exam to uncover the criminal.

While the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 states its illegal for employers in the private sector to polygraph their employees, there are some exceptions to the rule. In this case, the embezzlement presents a huge economic loss to the firm.

Your boss needs to find out who’s responsible so he can have the authorities arrest them and put them on trial. This action is in line with the conditions of the EPPA, and your boss can polygraph the team. However, he has no right to force anyone to take the test. However, if everyone says they’ll take it, and your college Greg says he refuses, guess who the likely culprit is?

This post looks at what to expect from your first polygraph exam and whether or not you need to feel nervous about it. We’ll show you the exam process and give you pragmatic strategies to deal with the stress produced by the lie detector test.


What Is a Polygraph and How Does It Work?

A lie detector test is a slang term for a “polygraph exam.” A polygraph exam engages the “fight-or-flight” response in the nervous system. When we enter stressful situations, such as the polygraph exam room, the “Sympathetic Nervous System” (SNS) signals the hypothalamus to get the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol.

These two biochemicals flood the bloodstream, initiating the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response is a byproduct of thousands of years of human evolution. Our ancestors developed this autonomic response as a way to escape threats. When humans were hunter-gatherers, they would encounter big cats in the wild while hunting for food.

Coming across a predator would engage the fight-or-flight response to give us enough energy and heightened awareness to escape the cat and avoid becoming their lunch. Today, we don’t have this predation threat against our lives. However, you’ve probably already felt the fight-or-flight response in your life.

For instance, have you ever been outside alone at night, walking home, and felt like someone is watching you? The hair stands on the back of your neck, and your pupils widen to bring in more light and help you assess your surroundings. Your heart starts racing, and you feel ready to run at the sound of anything approaching you.

That’s the fight-or-flight response in action. You’ll either run (flight) from the threat or stand your ground (fight) to engage it. This process is “autonomic,” meaning you can’t control it. It forms part of the same basic autonomous responses in the sympathetic nervous system controlling breathing and blinking. You don’t need to think about these tasks. The body does them automatically without any conscious input.

So, when you enter the polygraph exam room, the SNS primes the fight-or-flight response due to the stressful impact of the environment on your conscious mind. It’s like feeling someone watching you, and you’re waiting for that stick to crunch behind you, signaling another person’s approach and the need to start running.

However, in this case, you’re waiting for the examiner to ask you a question where you have to lie, and it causes the same response in the body, activating fight-or-flight. When the question arrives, and you have to lie, the equipment attached to your body picks up the physiological changes in your blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and movement, sending this feedback to software controlled by the examiner.

They note these biological changes in you and interpret them as deception.


I’m Feeling Nervous – Will I Fail the Polygraph?

If you’re feeling nervous, relax. Don’t worry about it. Everyone feels nervous before taking a polygraph for the first time. It’s part of human nature. We get anxious when we’re presented with the unknown. The unknown initiates a fear response, and we feel uncertain about what to expect.

For instance, if you’re bungee jumping for the first time, you’ll also feel nervous. What if the rope breaks? What if something bad happens? Maybe you have a fear of heights? Whatever the reason, the SNS activates the fight-or-flight response, making you feel nervous and anxious about the event’s outcome.


The Polygraph Will Determine the Difference Between Nervousness and Lying

The polygraph examiner knows that everyone feels nervous when taking a polygraph, and they know how to handle the situation. When you enter the exam room, they do their best to make you feel calm and collected. They’ll ask you if you feel nervous and tell you there’s nothing to worry about.

Under no circumstances may the examiner act threatening to ward you or try to intimidate you. You also have the right to leave the exam rooms at any time if you feel a panic attack coming on or you feel the examiner is threatening you or using intimidation tactics.

In normal polygraph exams, the examiner will do their best to calm you. If you start the process and start feeling nervous, a trained examiner can tell the difference between deception and nervousness. They’ll stop the process and ask you to take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and continue when you feel better.


The Examiner Will Understand If You’re Nervous

As mentioned, it’s common for the examiner to deal with nervous people. In fact, a person that walks into the exam room feeling calm and confident is a red flag to the examiner. It’s the examiner’s job to make you feel comfortable in the exam room, and they will start the proceedings when you feel at ease.


When to Be Nervous with the Polygraph – If You’re Guilty

The only time where you should feel nervous about taking a polygraph is if you’re guilty. If you’re guilty, there’s a high percentage chance the examiner will figure out you’re lying. When strapped to the polygraph equipment and in a high-pressure environment, it’s impossible to avoid the fight-or-flight response.

The moment you hear the polygraph examiner say, “have you ever stolen from an employer?” or “Have you ever embezzled company or client funds?” it feels like a shockwave in your mind. You instantly feel the fight-or-flight response activate, but there’s nowhere to run. You have to keep sitting in the chair as the examiner repeats the same question, again and again, staring at their screen.

You might not be able to see the examiner’s face, but as they keep repeating, “have you ever embezzled client or company funds?” you feel yourself getting more and more nervous and jittery. That’s it, you’ve given yourself away, and the examiner knows you’re lying as you answer “no.”


Can You Beat a Polygraph If You’re Guilty?

Some insist it’s possible to beat a polygraph. However, these individuals usually read information online, pointing to the inaccuracy of polygraphs and the use of countermeasures against polygraph readings.

The issue with this is that most of this information is well outdated. It came from the late 1980s and 1990s when studies on the technology showed inefficiencies and reduced effectiveness at producing accurate results.

It’s been decades since the publication of this data, and polygraph technology advanced tremendously during this time. For instance, most information is from the era before the introduction of computerized systems to polygraph exams.

It’s common for people to state they can get away with implementing “countermeasures” to the examiner’s questions and their physiological responses. Three of the popular ones mentioned online include placing a thumbtack in the front of your show. You press your big toe on the thumb tack when answering the question.

The idea behind this countermeasure is to confuse the electrical signal picked up by the polygraph machine. However, in reality, the examiner notices this reaction immediately. They will likely ask you if you’re using a countermeasure, and then what do you say? You’ll have to lie your way around that too.

Another common hack was to clench the sphincter when answering a question. This action supposedly created the same response as the thumbtack. However, like the thumbtack, the examiner will notice this immediately and ask you if you’re implementing a countermeasure to hide anything.

The most common countermeasure used in the modern era of the polygraph is Xanax. This anti-anxiety drug calms the nervous system, reducing the SNS response to external stimuli. However, it doesn’t eliminate the fight-or-flight response entirely. Instead, it just mildly blunts it.

However, the examiner measures your biological responses against a baseline taken at the beginning of the test. Regardless of your use of Xanax, you’ll still produce a stress response that stands out from the baseline when you lie.

There’s no way to beat the lie detector. If you decide to use countermeasures and the examiner discovers your actions, that’s an immediate failure.


How to Stop Nervousness and Feelings of Anxiety Before a Polygraph Exam

While using countermeasures in the polygraph exam is forbidden and results in an instant failure if discovered, there’s nothing wrong with trying to calm yourself before the exam. As mentioned, the examiner will expect you to feel nervous.

However, if you’re a person that gets anxious and nervous easily, you can try a few techniques the day before the exam and on exam day to help you calm your nerves.


Stick to Your Routine

Don’t stress out if your boss tells you you’re going for a polygraph. You’ve done nothing wrong, and there’s no reason to feel anxious. Stick to your routine the day before and on the morning of the exam.

Don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Eat your dinner the night before and have breakfast in the morning. Please don’t change anything up; it could impact your nervous system and how it normally copes with stress.


Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s common for people to feel nervous the day before the polygraph exam. However, do your best to get a good night’s sleep. Take a nice hot bath 45 minutes before you go to bed. The vasodilation effect from the hot water makes it easier to drift off. Add a bath bomb to the water for transdermal absorption of magnesium, which helps dozing off to dreamland.

Improve your sleep hygiene. Don’t watch TV two hours before going to bed and don’t look at your phone. The blue light from these devices will keep you awake. Read a book instead, and get to bed early. Don’t use your mom’s or your partners sleeping drugs to fall asleep. They’ll affect your conscious through and nervous system the following day.


Try Conscious Breathing Exercises and a Guided Meditation

Search YouTube for guided meditation and breathing exercises. Use it before you go to sleep the night before and thirty minutes before your exam. Most of these medications last around 10 minutes, and they’re incredibly effective at activating the “Parasympathetic Nervous System” that’s responsible for initiating calmness in the body.


Avoid Caffeine

Please don’t overdo it with caffeine in the morning. If you usually have a cup or two in the morning, that’s no problem. However, if you didn’t sleep right, don’t run to Starbucks for a triple espresso. The additional stimulation of the nervous system will make your anxiety worse.


In Closing – No, You Shouldn’t Be Nervous about Your Polygraph Test

There’s no reason to feel nervous about taking a polygraph exam. If you do, don’t worry about it, it’s normal to feel a bit anxious before walking into the exam room. Follow our tips to stay calm and inform the examiner of your mental state before starting the test.

Once you start the test, you’ll feel fine, and before you know it, it’s going to be over, and you’ll have nothing more to worry about. However, you should be afraid if you’re Greg in the accounting department and are responsible for embezzling company or client funds. Be very, very afraid.


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