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An Open Letter To Every Person Who Has Lost A Loved One

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An Open Letter To Every Person Who Has Lost A Loved One

What a life changing, terrible, excruciating experience it is to lose a loved one. It is a journey we all find ourselves on. One we would never choose.

I lost my father to cancer when he was 45 years old. I had just finished my freshman year of college. It has been almost 5 years since he passed. I cannot imagine how I have gone 5 years without talking to my father. I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life not talking to him. It has not been an easy road since losing him. I have grieved well and not so well. I have at times stuffed it down and tried to be strong. I have also cried and cried and cried. It was messy. It still is. I do not know how to grieve well, as I have made many mistakes, but I do know some important points to know about grief that help during the first few weeks, months and years.

Here are some ways to support yourself during those initial weeks, months and years.

1. Give Yourself Grace

“Grief is a process, not a state.” – Anne Grant

“The thing about grief is that it’s a roller coaster – it’s up, it’s down. The emotions sometimes take over.” – Brent Sexton

Grief is a maze and often it appears the lights are out. To find our way through is a miracle. When you find yourself pulled into this journey, let your first rule be to give yourself grace. Don’t check off the “steps of grief” list or compare your story to another’s. Don’t fret about the fickleness of your emotions. Allow yourself to be. Allow yourself to feel the way you feel. Grief has a mind of its own.

There will be days when you don’t want to do anything. Some days you can just allow yourself to do nothing. Some days you need to force yourself to get out of bed. There is no formula to grief. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to be on your own team. Support yourself by allowing grief to take the reigns and letting go of guilt that comes with not being “okay”.

2. Listen To Advice

“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

Some of the most wonderful support I had after losing my dad were friends who had also lost a young parent. I lost him during college years, a time when most of my peers were focused on lighter and more positive things. To have a few people who knew this experience, this foreign world I was thrown into, was the most comforting support I needed at that time. The wisdom they passed on to me and the way they knew to love me was just what I needed. When those people come your way, allow them to speak to your grief.

3. Don’t Listen To Advice

“But there is a discomfort that surrounds grief. It makes even the most well-intentioned people unsure of what to say. And so many of the freshly bereaved end up feeling even more alone.” – Meghan O’Rourke

Everyone told me that the holidays would be the hardest. The holidays came and went and I noticed that the pain of loss was no greater and no less than any other day. For many people the first holidays, birthdays and anniversaries without the loved one are incredibly painful, but for me I found other moments without my dad to be more painful than Christmas or my birthday.

Those of us who have lost loved ones will likely have hilarious stories about comments that were made to us during the first few weeks and months. We remind ourselves that the people who have said some shocking statements to us were “well meaning.” Maybe, but they still hurt and surprise. Though our grief may be different, letting some ignorant and ridiculous comments from onlookers roll off our shoulders is something we all have in common.

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We are all so uniquely different right? We will grieve that way. Let your grief be your own. Let it be your own story. The advice from others is incredibly helpful at times, but other times it can make you feel as if you are on their agenda. Take what you need and leave the rest behind.

4. Remember Your Person

“Grief and memory go together. After someone dies, that’s what you’re left with. And the memories are so slippery yet so rich.” – Mike Mills

Don’t be afraid to remember your loved one. Spend time talking about them with the people who will cherish those memories with you. The memories you have will be precious to you for the rest of your life. The beautiful thing about memory is that is sustains us. It is never as good as having our loved one right next to us, but it is much better than no trace of our loved one having ever existed. It is good to remember. One day those memories may bring smiles without tears.

5. Befriend Grief

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Grief is a response to the power of love. Grief is the price we pay for deep, wonderful love. And when grief arrives at our doorstep, we must let it in. Unaddressed pain will not heal. While grief can feel excruciating, unbearable, it is imperative that you one day show up and choose to feel it. The only way to the other side is through the pain. One day there will come release and peace. Let your tears and your emotions free. Part of giving ourselves permission and grace to grieve is allowing ourselves to feel what we feel without judging ourselves for the erraticism. It is good to cry.

6. Hold On To Hope

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

The loss of the loved one will be like a tattoo on your heart. Permanent. Forever. Grief, however, is not forever. Through time and tears, your heart will mend and heal. Do not feel pressure to “move on”, but in time you can and will move forward, forever carrying their memories along with you.

Yes it gets better, and no it doesn’t. My grief is infinitely less painful, hopeless, devastating and breathtaking than at the beginning. It is better because now I have learned how to live without my dad. The pain of his absence is no longer surprising or shocking. When I think of him I smile and laugh. I can do so without crying, and when I do cry my soul is filled with love and joy at those memories. Peace has taken over my heart in the place where grief reigned upon his death. Peace is a fresh wave of relief in the sea of grief. In the same way that grief gets better, it also does not. I will never forget my dad. My heart will always and forever have a bruise, in the sense that if you press on it I will feel pain. I will carry my dad’s life and tragic death with me in my heart. I will forever mourn that my dad will not get to meet his grandchildren. He would have been such a wonderful grandfather. I am so sad for the things he won’t be able to teach them, things he taught me like singing the alphabet backwards or other silly dad things. I wish he could watch hockey with my husband, as both of them are Canadians and could have used a hockey buddy. I mourn his absence, but I would rather carry his memories with me forever no matter what they cost me.

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Allow your grief to flow through you. Choose to cry hard and laugh hard, remember hard and love hard. Grief will awaken every part of you, if you allow it. It will be painful, excruciating is the word I use. It will feel like you could die from the pain. Sometimes I was surprised that my ribs didn’t crack. Keep showing up. And eventually, healing will make its way into your heart. Grief is not without hope. Hold on to hope.

Featured photo credit: Thomas8047 via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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