What is public speaking anxiety?
Fear of public speaking is also known as "Glossophobia", which is Greek for 'fear of words'. Obviously, speech anxiety does not mean you are afraid of words! What it means is that you are suffering from performance anxiety, which is a form of social anxiety. Also known as stage fright, speaking fear happens when you find yourself in front of an audience giving a speech or presentation while in a fight or flight or freeze state of mind.
When you are in this state the amygdala, which is the alarm center of the brain, has flagged up your current situation as dangerous and as a result, the panic button has been triggered. If you stay in this mode for long enough, you may start hyperventilating and may end up having a full blown panic attack.
Whether you only panic before a presentation or a speech or you get nervous while it's happening or you beat yourself up for making mistakes afterward, public speaking anxiety can have a severe disruptive effect on your life.
Your mind's job is to keep you take your away from pain and drive you towards pleasure. If public speaking has been encoded as a danger by your amygdala, then you most likely will avoid it. Unfortunately, avoidance reinforces the problem so nervousness can quickly escalate into a full-blown phobia.
The consequences can be very distressing:
- You may avoid a specific university course just because it involves presentations.
- You may switch career or change your job because you can't handle speaking in public
- You may not go for a promotion or turn down a dream job because it feels too challenging
- You may fail to deliver a speech when appropriate such as at a wedding
What are public speaking anxiety symptoms?
The physical symptoms of anxiety are related to hyperventilation and can be any of the following:
- Shortness of breath
Heart palpitations Numbness Chest pains Dry mouth Clammy hands Difficulties in swallowing, Tremors
No More Panic
4 Ways of Preventing and Defusing Panic Attacks
The reason why you are feeling this way is that the fight or flight response sets in motion a process in your body that allows you to do precisely that: fight the danger or flee from it. This means that cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline are pumped into your body, blood rushes to your heart from the extremities to help you face the danger, and you start breathing fast to get more oxygen into your tissues.
However, if there is no real physical danger and you, therefore, do not engage in any physical exertion your body never gets the signal that the threat is over and the alarm stays on for way too long.
When the sympathetic nervous system is aroused in this way, it also sends inhibitory signals to the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for rational decision making, and effectively this means you start thinking in life or death, black and white terms.
This means that you will not be able to think rationally or clearly until you have calmed down. It can feel very scary, as if you have no control over your body, but this is not strictly true.
There are four simple ways of defusing panic. Some are more practical than others, but they all involve switching off the sympathetic nervous system by switching on the parasympathetic nervous system and stopping hyperventilation. Find out what they are!
Why do I get nervous public speaking?
It is perfectly ‘normal’ to feel nervous when you are watched by an audience, no matter what the performance is. Whenever you are visible and ‘center stage,’ you are vulnerable. And the most common threat for human beings has always been—and remains—peer group expulsion.
In the past, this would have been tantamount to a death sentence, because, without proper support, human beings cannot survive alone—at least not for long. I would suggest this is why conformist behaviour is so prevalent in human society. It is a healthy instinct to avoid sticking our head above the parapet, in case we are kicked out of the group.
On the other hand, if we don’t allow ourselves to be seen and heard, we are effectively hiding our true self and putting up an inauthentic front.
Not only can this be very detrimental to our relationships and our sense of self as part of the wider community, but it can also hurt our career ambitions. Increasingly, the competitive workplace requires us to step up to leadership positions. Even getting a job requires us to stand out and be seen.
Whenever you are visible and ‘centre stage’, you are vulnerable. And the most significant threat for human beings has always been—and remains—peer group expulsion.
What causes public speaking anxiety?
The problem is not anxiety but excessive anxiety. If you do experience extreme anxiety it may be due to two main factors:
How do I stop being nervous when presenting?
Although you may have attended classes and tried various tips and techniques, the only anxiety treatment that will allow you to overcome fear of public speaking has to include changing your inner dialogue, also known as self-talk.
You also may have to deal with any traumatic experiences you have had so that any pattern matches may be 'scrambled,' past events reframed and new positive associations made.
This is best done through therapy techniques such as regression hypnotherapy, trauma treatment (EFT, EMDR, Havening, the Rewind Technique, RTT, and the fast phobia cure) cognitive behaviour hypnotherapy, and systematic desensitization.
Of course, medication can also sometimes help, at least to relieve the symptoms short term. Beta blockers such as propranolol can be taken before a speech or presentation, but they won't cure you of the problem, only temporarily mask it.
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