‘Heart is beating out of my chest, my palms are sweaty, my hands are shaking and 100 thoughts are racing through my head’. The ordeal I used to go through, and still do to a much lesser extent, when I was faced with public speaking. These physical symptoms were outward projections of the anxiety introducing thoughts that were racing through my head, “I’m going to say something stupid”, “Everyone can tell how nervous I am” and so on.
The truth of the matter is that for all of us, anxiety is here to stay to some degree, we need it for survival, to make us cautious, to push us to achieve and to protect and prepare us from danger. Where we get unstuck, however, is when our mind and our body haven’t caught up with the current world we live in and can perceive the danger of public speaking in the same way it would perceive the danger of a lion on the hunt. This can lead to the ongoing array of unpleasant body sensations and thoughts in theses otherwise non-dangerous situations, which can lead to fear, avoidance and isolation, disrupting our ability to function fully in the modern world.
We need to feel in balance to be happy, therefore, managing anxiety can assist us to reach our happy place at home and work. Modern counselling and psychological theory and practice offer a range of useful and effective anxiety management strategies. There are too many to cover in this post, however I have selected a few quick techniques that I have recently utilised to support me in managing my anxiety around public speaking that have worked for me:
Never underestimated the power of taking a moment to concentrate on a few slow calm breaths in the management of anxiety.
Try taking a slow and even breath in through your nose, pause for a couple of moments, and then slowly let the air out of your nose again. Be sure to lengthen your exhale… This prolonged exhale helps to retain more carbon dioxide in your system which is your bodies ‘natural tranquiliser’.
Grounding techniques help us connect with the present moment rather than allowing our brain to become hijacked with a flood of anxiety provoking thoughts. There are many ways we achieve this but here are a few examples:
Describe your surroundings in detail, using all your senses – what are 5 things you can see, hear, smell, feel etc.
Press your heels into the floor, and notice how it feels
As you breathe, on the exhale say something calming, such as ‘relax’, ‘it’s OK’ or ‘you can do this’.
Being a friend to yourself during an anxious moment will go much further in supporting yourself to manage anxious situations than listening to the self-critical inner voice that often takes over in moments of distress.
Take a self-compassion break by doing the following:
Allow yourself to acknowledge when you are in pain or experiencing suffering through your anxiety.
Remind yourself that suffering and anxiety is part of life – you’re not alone
Then ask yourself “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?”, “May I learn to accept myself as I am?”
“I’m feeling anxious right now”
“Everyone feels this way sometimes”
“May I be gentle and understanding with myself”
“I will try and be as compassionate as possible with myself”
Facing your fear:
Exposing yourself to the situation you are feeling anxious about has been proven to be one of the most effective ways in challenging your anxious thoughts and building resilience. However, this technique needs to be utilised with caution. For server anxiety, exposure to the fear should be done in a very gradual way with the support of a counsellor or therapist.
In my case by starting with small presentations, using the above techniques, and taking time afterwards to reflect on how it went and how I felt, I could build on my resilience and work up to presenting to a room of 40 people (a situation that would have had me running out the door previously).
Anxiety, like all human states, comes on a spectrum ranging from useful protective anxious thoughts, through to life crippling anxiety disorders. There is a plethora of support and information available to anyone affected by anxiety. The above techniques are just a snap shot of what’s worked for me while trying to tame my own anxiety. I hope you find them useful too. If you would like further information on how to better manage your anxiety, please feel free to contact one of our friendly team members, who would be happy to talk to you, on 1300 796 640.