I once read a stat that people are more afraid of public speaking than of death. So the joke goes that at a funeral the guy giving the eulogy is worse off than the corpse. While this may be an exaggeration, it illustrates the fact that many people struggle with this kind of ‘event anxiety.’
I have struggled with this, and not only limited to public speaking. It can occur at any event that I deem important. I discussed this kind of anxiety in my Irrational Anxiety post, because at the time I felt that it was irrational.
Isn’t it great how we can always learn new things about ourselves? Well, Michael Hyatt has recently helped me to learn a big part of who I am and how I tick. In his post “How To Reframe Your Fear and Let It Work For You, he admits that he fights anxiety prior to speaking engagements. (First, this is a great lesson in vulnerability. The best way to defeat your issues is to stop hiding your issues!) I have to admit that I was a little surprised that he struggles with anxiety in these kinds of situations…I guess I assumed that CEOs were immune to the struggles that we commoners face! Myth busted! But even more importantly, he helped me understand that there actually is some logic to this illogical anxiety that I face. And I can use it to my advantage!
Let’s have a biology lesson. Fight or flight is the common term for the body’s response to stressful events, through a path known as the sympathetic nervous system. This is an amazing system that kicks into gear when we need to be ready for a situation. Here are some of the effects:
- Increased attention
- Increased focus
- Blood flow redirected to only the vital areas
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
These are all good things if I was going into battle. Even nausea! If I was following William Wallace into hand to hand battle, nausea would be good. (Less weight in the stomach to slow you down, if you know what I mean.) But this same result is much less useful when my body is preparing for a romantic date with my wife. So that is the problem: my body uses this response for a whole host of events, not just physical combat. In my case, public speaking is a culprit. Flying is another. Strangely enough, dates with my wife or my kids is another! Pretty much any time I am excited about an important event, my body starts to get ready. As Michael says, my body is “Ready for peak performance – amped up, alert, ready for action!” I could never understand why my body got nauseated prior to taking my daughter to Dunkin Donuts for her birthday, but this is why. (That, and an attack from the Adversary, of course.)
So, here is my new strategy. Instead of dreading the symptoms of anxiety, I actually embrace them as a normal physical response that will improve my performance. That helps me to reject and fight off the irrational anticipatory anxiety that usually crops up before my normal physical response. So when I get nervous about getting nervous, I tackle this irrational anxiety head on, using the tactics here, to keep from spiraling in the wrong direction. And then as I start to feel the normal physical response I repeat to myself:
“Amped, Alert, and Ready for Action. Amped, Alert, and Ready for Action.”
Understanding that my body is simply getting ready to perform has been one more step in conquering anxiety.
How about you? Do you get anxious about these types of events? Does public speaking terrify you? Don’t let the anxiety limit your potential – use these strategies to get it under control. Instead of letting anxiety beat you, string together some small wins to build up your confidence.
Feed on the energy. As Michael Hyatt would say, “You are alert, amped up, and ready for action!”
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