Fear of Public Speaking Anxiety
Public speaking anxiety is a very common experience.
Although becoming a professional speaker is not something most people have as an aspiration, learning how to get through a speech without breaking out in a cold sweat is definitely a goal for many.
This is a type of anxiety that I know first hand. During high school and the early part of university, I struggled with debilitating public speaking anxiety.
This wasn’t for a lack of trying or not facing my fear. Nope, I faced it over and over again with the same result.
But because I eventually got to the point that I could speak in public without anxiety, I can confidently share with you that it is entirely possible.
You don’t need to live in fear of public speaking if it is part of your job or something that you need to do for school.
You might never love it (I didn’t) but you can certainly stop feeling as though you are going to die when you do it.
To help you out, I’ve put together a list of some tips that I wish someone would have shared with me when I was struggling so much.
See a Therapist
I’m not going to dance around this issue. If your anxiety about public speaking is severe, then you may have a diagnosable anxiety disorder (social anxiety disorder).
Yes, a severe fear of public speaking alone is enough to qualify you for this diagnosis.
To get help, you’ll likely need to go through your family doctor.
However, if you aren’t likely to follow through and get therapy, I created a workbook to help you practice what I learned in behavior therapy (the Phobia Free Workbook).
Or, you could sign up for Betterhelp Online therapy and speak to a therapist online from the comfort of your home.
Readers of this blog receive 20% off their first month (the cost is $65/week which is very reasonable compared to face-to-face fees for therapy).
If you have the chance to do so, I recommend trying to do things to reduce the rush of adrenaline you may feel when speaking in public.
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Things that you can do ahead of time include running on a treadmill or around the block, lifting some weights, or dancing to a high vibe song until you feel exhausted.
In the actual situation, if you start to feel a surge of adrenaline, you can do things like pushing your hands against each other or wiggling your toes in your shoes to try and release the adrenaline.
Of course, it’s always better if you can stop it from happening in the first place. That’s where learning how to induce a relaxation response can help. This is what I learned in behavior therapy and what I teach in my Phobia Free Workbook.
Use Coping Statements
Have you heard of positive affirmations? Coping statements are very similar, but they are focused on your worst fears.
For example, if your worst fear is “I will have an anxiety attack with shaking hands and shortness of breath and everyone will notice and feel sorry for me…”
Then your coping statement could go something like this:
“If the worst happens and I do have an anxiety attack, I have coping strategies that I can use to calm down. Yes, people might feel sorry for me or embarrassed for me, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Trust me, I know how hard it is when every time you give a speech or presentation your mind and body run away from you.
These coping statements to me are like a last line of defense.
Your first line of defense is always ALWAYS to mostly get rid of the anxiety itself. Because truthfully, you can speak in public when you are so anxious!
I got really tired of hearing that people won’t think I’m weird or won’t notice my anxiety.
Actually, I’m pretty sure most people did. It got mentioned to me a lot.
This is where the usual tips for anxiety tend to break down when it comes to social/performance anxiety.
Instead, get rid of your anxiety and then be in a fierce mindset that you’re not going to live that way anymore.
Find a Helpful Ally
When I was working through my public speaking anxiety, I had a very fortunate ally in the audience.
You see, it was my professor who arranged for me to get help for my public speaking fear, and my first big task after going through 8 weeks of behavior therapy was to give a speech to the class.
Knowing that he was there rooting for me was, I believe, a big reason for my success.
Let someone know how hard you find public speaking. Ideally, you’ll get some help for it as well.
But at the very least, you’ll have someone who knows that you are trying really hard at something that is difficult for you.
Search for that face in the crowd when you start to feel your anxiety rise.
Stop Fighting Your Anxiety
One of the core tenets of mindfulness is that you must ride your anxiety like a wave rather than fighting it like it is an angry bear.
I agree with this to a certain extent. If you have debilitating anxiety every time you try to speak in public, leaning into your anxiety instead of fighting against it WILL NOT HELP.
This is an area where I think general advice for anxiety doesn’t apply to social anxiety. When you are in a social situation, there are split-second decisions that you need to make and you really NEED TO BE RELAXED.
This is why I advocate for getting your anxiety healed first. However, there are situations where you should stop fighting against your anxiety.
Specifically, if you feel a little nervous before a speech, that is normal. Everyone feels that. If you turn it into the start of something worse because of your thinking, then yes you will end up in trouble.
So, the moral of the story is to first heal your anxiety and then learn that a little nerves is normal.
Best of all, you will have conquered a fear that most Americans never overcome. That in itself is an accomplishment of which you can be proud.
If extreme anxiety about public speaking becomes a problem, you may have an anxiety disorder that requires treatment.