WORKING WITH FEAR, ANXIETY, AND STRESS
"When fear becomes your enemy, you are fighting against yourself."
The experience of fear, anxiety, and stress associated with speaking can be complex, and there's no single best approach to address it. In fact, I'm often surprised by what actually helps individual clients. At the same time, there are basic ways to understand fear, anxiety, and stress that are often useful to start with. Here, I want to touch on one such idea--the anxiety loop.
Fear and anxiety are involuntary reactions to perceived threats. In many cases, these reactions are extremely helpful and protect us in times of real danger. In some cases, however, these reactions emerge when there is no clear external threat. Instead, the threat we experience has a vague association with the context we're in (like speaking in an intimidating group).
Facing vague external threats while speaking can be very unpleasant, but often with experience or training, our involuntary reactions become entirely workable. But there is another level of difficulty that often emerges: we begin to perceive our involuntary reactions themselves as threats.
When our involuntary reactions to a perceived threat themselves become threats, a loop forms. A typical version might go like this:
I have to speak soon. Damn, what's wrong...? Oh no, I'm nervous. Not again. I wish this wouldn't happen... It's not going away... Oh no, it's getting worse. My mouth is dry, palms sweating, heart speeding up. Why is this happening again...? It's still getting worse... Can't think. Breathing and chest tight, legs starting to shake, throat tight...
If reading that just now was stressful, it's worth taking a moment before you read further to come back to the present by looking around at your surroundings. Notice what your eyes like to see around you... Really try that. Most likely you're not just about to speak to a group, and you're safe. Let that register.
The loop in which our involuntary experiences themselves become threats can be very confusing. It can feel as if we're being betrayed by ourselves. It can feel hopeless. Essentially what has happened is that we've developed an adversarial relationship with our own involuntary experiences.
The loop works something like this: we develop a negative view of the symptoms of our stress response (such as sweating palms or faster heartbeat). Then, when we perceive these symptoms, our fear becomes stronger. And the stronger fear then increases the symptoms. And when we realize that the symptoms are stronger, we become more afraid...
In some more extreme cases, seeking out a mental health professional or trauma specialist can be very useful. For most of us, however, there are also other helpful ways of addressing this loop. What truly helps you may involve basic common approaches to working with stress and anxiety, or it may involve approaches more specific to you. The good news is that once you really understand what's happening, and you have clear ways of addressing it, what once felt terrible can begin to feel good.
Some of the areas that might be helpful to explore include:
- Your body and breathing: SIMPLE REASON WHY
- Your goals when speaking: WHY
- Your preparation: WHY
- Your relevant history: WHY
- XXXX: WHY
- XXXX: WHY
If fear of speaking is stopping you from offering your best to the world, it may be worth finding help. Since coaches and therapists are all different from each other, it's important to find someone who can really help you.
A number of traditions inform my work with clients who experience a challenging stress response, including Somatic Experiencing®, Steven Hoskinson's Organic Intelligence® work, Fitzmaurice Voicework®, various meditation and body-oriented practices, and traditions linked to the performing arts.
Many people contact me for help with anxiety, and it makes sense. The word anxious comes from the Latin word angere, which means to choke. The breath, the voice, our ability to speak -- all can be linked to anxiety. For many people, working on speaking, voice, or breathing is to learn to work well with anxiety. And doing so can make a huge difference.
Approaches to Learning
The work we do will be conceptual, experiential and practical, and the emphasis will change as needed.
- Why Conceptual? Because how you understand something affects how you perceive something and how you do something.
- Why Experiential? Because it’s not enough just to understand something. In order to learn something deeply, you also need to experience it directly.
- Why Practical? Because it’s important that our work is useful outside of the studio.
What I offer:
- Private Coaching
Private lessons in my Los Angeles studio (or your location) provide the opportunity to focus on your specific needs.
Public Speaking Workshops offer a safe and supportive opportunity to explore learning in a setting that may typically be very challenging--in order to discover new, more satisfying possibilities.
Voice Workshops (offered locally, nationally, and internationally) offer an immersion in a short period of time.