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4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Managing Anxiety

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4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Managing Anxiety

I’ve recently turned 30 and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my misspent youth – more specifically, on the moment I decided to slap the ugly mug of anxiety with my glove of self-belief!  I’d like to think that I handled this duel with the wit and finesse of a young Cary Elwes ala The Princess Bride, but if I’m honest it probably looks more like an ungodly montage of Mr Bean and Bridget Jones’ Diary – complete with binge eating and drinking, ineptitude, embarrassment, and clumsy attempts at fitness.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, and according to Beyond Blue 1 in 4 people will probably experience it at least once in their life.  For some of us, this monster will be ever-present and it takes considerable energy to keep this beast subdued and chained up somewhere to keep it from hurting us, our loved ones and even our professional aspirations.  At the time, I had no idea anxiety was even a ‘thing’ and completely thought that there was something physically wrong with me. Fortunately, I sought help and have since learnt a thing or two about making this condition sit and play dead.  Of course, everyone is different and you’ve got to tailor your own approach, but if you’re reading this at 2am and feel like your head is rotating like that girl from The Exorcist, don’t start climbing the walls just yet!

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1. The old switch-a-roo!  Stop, breath, distract, relax

You want to be loving life like a mighty Gyarados, but instead you’re a Magikarp hyperventilating on the floor.  We can all agree that panic attacks are the worst.  The important thing to remember (unless you have been medically diagnosed with heart condition!) is that you’re not having a heart attack – you’re just having a crappy moment.  One of the first things my psychologist told me to do was take care of my physical symptoms first.  Stop for a moment and take slow, deep breaths so you don’t feel light-headed.  Once the world has stopped spinning, pop on your favourite tune, or do some light domestic task – basically anything simple that will distract your brain from freaking out.  When you’ve got this technique down pat, you’ll feel like Houdini!  Your brain will be tricked into thinking everything is fine and dandy (at it will be!), your heart rate will regulate itself and you’ll start to feel normal again.  At this point, choose a safe activity that you find relaxing and treat it like a mental reward for getting through it.

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2. Get a little help from a friend

You’re never alone, and remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you!  Some people are better at understanding and talking you through your bad days than others.  Reach out to a good friend or family member who has this gift of empathy to help you get back on track.  Surrounding yourself with positive people who have a balanced and chilled out view of life will also help you get perspective.  If you’re convinced that nobody you know can help you or you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close to you, ask your GP to recommend a psychologist.  Many healthcare schemes can offer a certain number of sessions at a reduced rate depending on your circumstances.  There are also a growing number of online resources to help you understand what may be causing your anxiety or depression, and what steps you can take to control it.

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3. Don’t focus on yourself too much

When you’re constantly facing a barrage of things to worry about, you can easily become self-absorbed or use it as a crutch to avoid getting out of your comfort zone.  This is not to say you’re a self-centred or weak person for having anxiety, but you can affect others by constantly finding nothing positive to talk about or focussing only on the negatives.  These thought patterns don’t help anyone, least of all you!  I’m guilty of falling into this trap, and it was only by recalling past conversations to my psychologist that I began to see that I was becoming a person I wouldn’t want to hang out with.  You can turn things around simply by being kind to yourself and others – post or tweet about something inspiring or beautiful, keep tabs on your nearest and dearest; organise a dinner, catch up over coffee or suggest a group activity you haven’t tried before.  Alternatively, you could try volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about.  When you hear news of your friends’ successes or tales of daring-do, don’t be envious – be happy for them!  This proves that if they have the power to create their own happiness, so do you.

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4. Don’t let anxiety define you

When I was younger, I let my anxiety stand in the way of a lot of my goals in life – namely to travel overseas by myself.  Well, I’m happy to say that I have now completed 5 months’ worth of travel around Europe with my sister and on my own!   While it wasn’t completely anxiety-free, it all worked out fine in the end and I am a stronger person for it.  Each year since being diagnosed with anxiety at 24, I’ve set myself challenges to help me develop and broaden my perspective.  Take a look at what’s blocking you from your goals and start taking action by breaking those goals down and assessing what’s really stopping you from achieving them.  If you’re worried about how anxiety might prevent you from a rewarding career, consider this – all the people I know with anxiety have been some of the most talented and hard-working people I’ve come across.  Anxiety still has an unfortunate stigma attached to it causing some ill-informed, upper-management types to think that an employee with anxiety can’t handle pressure.  Think of it this way – you’re already lion-taming this beast and compiling that end of year report due Friday at the same time.  Pressure?  You eat it for breakfast!

I hope these tricks help you calm the farm!  However, any mental disorder can and should be dealt with before it takes over your life.  There are a number of ways you can address the effects of anxiety and no two journeys to recovery will be the same.  To find out more about this condition, there are few great online sites such as Beyond Blue, Headspace and Mind.org that will help you understand the symptoms and causes and where you can go to find help.  I hope you make 2016 the year to kick arse!

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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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