Bread, Butter, and Anxiety
How to deal with Anxiety
For a long time, I have dealt with anxiety by running away from events that caused it. If I had to give a talk or a presentation, I’d suddenly get “sick” and escape it.
Public speaking has always been my biggest fear and most people I know are afraid of it.
Running away can seem like the logical solution to the problem but it doesn't work because anxiety is an emotion. You cannot avoid emotions, they are a part of you.
Although anxiety can seem like a negative thing that you wish you never had, it’s there for a reason. A long long time ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, if you were standing alone with several sets of strange eyes (of wild animals) staring at you, it was probably because you were in danger.
Your amygdala — the part of the brain that regulates fear — would kick into the fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode, thus filling up with adrenaline. This response helped you and that is why it exists.
For a modern-day human, the eyes of the audience may not represent a threat, but the fear response is inevitable.
If Anxiety is not so bad, why are we so adamant about hating and avoiding it?
Almost everybody I know who has the fear of public speaking has also experienced a negative shameful incident associated with it.
For example, when I was a middle schooler, a teacher told me to stand up and speak on a topic. I was unprepared and when all eyes were on me, I panicked. My heart was beating very fast, my voice quivered and I uttered words without thinking.
The teacher announced to the class that I couldn’t speak well and told me to sit down. I remember feeling ashamed, I couldn’t face some of my friends at school anymore.
Like a fool, I believed that the teacher was right and that I couldn’t speak. Shame is an incredibly strong feeling, it changes you completely. After that day, I began having anxious thoughts about speaking, and I avoided speaking as much as I could.
Sometimes you cannot avoid your fears because your bread-and-butter is at stake
When I was in the final year of engineering college, I decided to stop running away from speaking opportunities because I knew speaking effectively was a criterion in job interviews.
The only obstacle in my path to speaking mastery was anxiety. I realized that my anxiety was always preceded by anxious thoughts like “I cannot speak”, “what would they think of me if I stammered?”
Anxious thoughts trigger Anxiety.
So, I traced back to how those anxious beliefs emerged and it led to my middle school and I had this epiphany that if I were a teacher and if a kid couldn’t speak on something, I would help them instead of taking a jab at them.
I would teach the child how to structure their thoughts, how to back up their statements with concrete proofs or facts, how to introduce or conclude their sentences. I would never declare that their first bad attempt meant they couldn’t speak!
So, with butterfingers, I dropped the belief that I couldn’t speak and this greatly reduced my anxious thoughts.
It’s the same fire that melts butter that hardens the egg
Public speaking is not like putting a knife through butter, you have to put in the effort, practice a lot, and face the fear head-on.
I spent a lot of time practicing speaking and landed job offers. Then, my boss at work who is in the Toastmaster’s club suggested I join it.
I wish I had known about the Toastmaster’s club when I was in middle school. When I joined the club, I was shocked because everybody encouraged me to become a better speaker and I learned how to speak effectively.
You learn how to give a prepared speech by following the learning path they provide, in which they teach you how to research a topic, how to write a speech, how to structure your speech, and you practice giving a speech at the meetings.
You also learn how to speak without preparation by participating in impromptu speaking gigs.
Also, when I became serious about fixing my speaking ability, I realized how fun it was, giving a speech is almost like giving a performance — you have to be creative in writing, organizing, and delivering your speech.
What other fixed beliefs are making you anxious?
As I got better at speaking, I decided to fix other things that made me anxious. The process was more or less the same, you realize you have certain negative or shameful beliefs around an event that leads to anxious thoughts.
Once you stop falling victim to those distorted narratives, you realize that there is always a path that leads to self-growth and you can take it.
And you are not alone, there are many people who suffer from anxiety and are trying their hardest to conquer their fears.
We may not be able to conquer our fears completely but facing it head-on definitely makes the next attempts smooth like butter!
Written by Shreya Sinha, Thank you for reading.