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Ask The Expert : How can I stop feeling anxious?

Question

I regularly have to attend a departmental meeting at which I quite often have to give a presentation.  As the meeting approaches, I find I am increasingly suffering from anxiety with symptoms ranging from a dry mouth, to “butterflies” in my stomach and palpitations.  I know that the way I feel is affecting my performance and that I do not convey my material as well as I could.  I also worry about the physical effect these symptoms are having on my body.  I wonder if you could give some advice or offer some techniques to help me overcome my nervousness?

Answer

Giving a presentation is quite stressful for many people.  Glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) often appears in lists of the most common phobias and it has been estimated that as many as 75% of people may suffer from it.  Everything is how we individually think and feel about it.  Actors and professional presenters will tell you that the right level of anticipatory anxiety before a performance helps and goes as they start performing.

It is when the anxiety is too marked that it is a potential problem. The individual starts to release the fight flight response with excess release of adrenaline and cortisol.  In a real emergency this can save your life allowing you to run away or fight, but when about to give a presentation you can neither run out of the room nor use a chair to hit someone.

So what can you do? The answer is to learn how to switch over to the relaxation response with noradrenaline, which slows the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, and relaxes the muscles and the body, whether one is having ‘butterflies’ in the stomach or palpitations.

During the early evening of the night before the presentation, practice it and visualise it being well received.  Then do something that relaxes you; such as reading or music, and have a relaxing bath.  Before the meeting do not have too much coffee, if you feel a bit stressed walk round the block and get some fresh air to use up excess adrenaline. And sit quietly breathing gently and slowly, taking longer on the breath out.

Some do need the help of a professional.  I have found over the last thirty years that hypnosis, especially when combined with neurolinguistic programming and C.B.T. (cognitive behavioural therapy) can help enormously.  There are newer techniques for the more severely effected, such as E.F.T. (emotional freedom therapy) and E.M.D.R. (eye movement de-sensitisation and reprogramming).  A therapy that helps us generally for mind and body is Mindfulness, a meditation based therapy.

All the above can help any phobia or anxiety state.  It is finding what works best for you.  I was a member of council of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis (Scotland) and to me meditating daily is as important as having a shower or good oral hygiene!

This article’s expert was Dr David Mason Brown.

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