Sweaty palms, shaky hands, heart pounding, nausea. All side effects of social anxiety and, in my case, a fear of public speaking. I wouldn’t call myself an anxious person in my day to day life nor am I diagnosed with anxiety but ask me to speak to a group of people and watch me become a nervous wreck! From group work at school, University Presentations, Department talks or high profile work meetings I have always had ‘the fear’. It’s a common issue, you’ll seldom find someone completely comfortable at the prospect of talking to a room full of people but for some it’s a deal breaker. A full stop, no thank you, nada, not happening. I’ve definitely found myself in the latter category over the years but on occasion, I’ve had to suck it up and do it anyway. It’s not been easy let me tell you, I still struggle now.
On some occasions I’ve gotten so nervous I’ve lost my breath. I wonder if something happened when I was younger, like I had to speak up in reception and the other 4 year olds started laughing. Sounds ridiculous, but a lot of irrational fears are born from a negative, sometimes traumatic, event. Whatever it was, I was dealt ‘the fear’ card a long time ago and shaking that off is a challenge but I know I’m far from alone. So, if you too ever find yourself googling Ted Talks at midnight…welcome friend. University presentations were a particularly hard time for me. I was even known to tip a shot of vodka back before them in the hope it calmed me down. NOT recommended! But I did it and 9 times out of ten I’m absolutely fine. That’s why it’s irrational, because despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, you still feel a need to be afraid.
It’s an unkindness that the way to get over something that makes you feel uncomfortable is by repeating the exercise. As if getting over a headache would be to have more and more headaches…harsh. But it’s true, the more you push yourself out of your comfort zone and face the fear, the more used to it you become and those nerves slowly fade.
I’ve watched all the videos and read all the articles, hoping to find THE word that will make my nerves all disappear but truthfully, it doesn’t exist. I have, however, come across a few things that have helped me over the years. So if you ever struggle with this, I hope you can find some help in these suggestions.
Things that have helped me
There are certain words, phrases and speeches that have resonated with me over the years. Sometimes it makes a difference. Sometimes not but sometimes is better than never and maybe they will resonate with you.
1) Every single day a funeral is held (stay with me) and every single day a person will stand in front of a crowd of grieving loved ones to talk passionately about a person they have lost. One of the hardest things you can ever do. Next time you feel fear at the prospect of a speaking part remember, somebody is reading out a eulogy today. If they can do that, you can do this.
2) You deserve the chance to participate, and you deserve the chance to be seen. If it is work related, speak as if your livelihood depends on it.
3) Believe that your words matter. What you have to say is important.
4) If you don’t speak up then no one is going to hear you. The only way to make a change, is to preach the change! No one ever changed the world by staying silent.
5) Breathe. Deep breaths before, the ‘feel your diaphragm move’ kind of breaths! During, take breaths at every pause.
6) Prepare. Write a script. Read the script over and over. Preferably in front of a mirror. The more used to the words that you become the less chance you have of slipping over them.
7) Say yes. I know every single part of you wants to say no when given this kind of task. Run out the door and worry about it later. Exposure therapy is a key phobia behavioural technique for a reason. Think of it as scratching a sticker off a book, the more you do it the easier it comes off.
8) Watch all the Ted Talks. There’s no harm in getting a little motivation from those that have been there.
I would love, love, love to hear about your experiences with this (or anxiety in general) in the comments below. Check out my Instagram for more and please follow if you enjoyed this blog.
Thanks for reading,