When I was younger I always looked at people who achieved a lot of success in their own fields and thought they might not have any major issues and probably have a perfect support system to reach the level they did. As I grew older I realized they are just like anyone else with the same anxieties and with similar family problems. Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from French Open and refusal to deal with the media because of her anxieties made me reflect on the importance of not letting our barriers hold us back.
I have started to notice my own anxieties in my early twenties. It could be because I was away from my family in a new country juggling school, forming new relationships, etc. My one thing that had the power to cause fear and physical distress was public speaking. I had always been an introvert or what you call selectively social. I want to particularly relay an experience I had very early on in my career 2 years out of college.
I was a Developer on a team where most others had years of Product/Business background. We were all supposed to present our case to senior management who would assess if it was a worthy effort or not. This wasn’t totally relevant to me but I was encouraged to take part in what made sense to me and my team. In my mind we would each talk during our turn at the table. To my surprise, we were asked to stand in front of the room and present our case. When I got up to speak, fear took over and my legs started shaking. The others tried to make me comfortable and I managed to get through that episode. How I wished I didn’t wear a skirt and high heels to add to my misery that day!
Was I embarrassed? Yes. Did that stop me from putting myself in situations like that? No. Fast forward 15 years I was presenting to c-levels in front of 100 other people. It doesn’t mean I no longer experience speaking anxiety though. I am just no longer scared of it. I know what to expect and I know it will pass. In this post, I would like to share some of what has worked for me with folks in a similar situation.
Assess It Correctly
ER Doctor, Darria Long in her Ted Talk ‘Simple Ways to Reduce Stress Right Now’, talks about categorizing stress similar to the way they do in the ER. With Red being ‘Immediately Life Threatening’, Yellow being ‘Serious but not immediately life threatening’ and Green being ‘Minor’. She talks about how we are reacting to everything as if it’s red so we should start by triaging correctly.
I use this a lot in my daily life and find it very helpful especially in situations when you feel that pit in your stomach. It’s not red so calm down analogy!
Coach Yourself through the situation
Talking to yourself in an uplifting voice or ‘You Can Do This’ tone really helps. Find a routine you can have that is a combination of things before your big thing (a party full of unknowns or presentation). I have a playlist full of inspiring music that energizes and puts me in a positive mindset. First step to achieving anything is believing.
Through your past experiences you know that even with all those anxious feelings you are capable of delivering. Maybe not at the level you would have wanted but definitely one step closer to what you want. Remind yourself that ‘I feel anxious now but I know I will figure it out at the end of the day like I always did’.
Pay Attention to Your Patterns
Start noticing when you start to feel your emotions taking over. Notice the type of situations that cause these feelings. The next time it happens, tell yourself I know this feeling, I am not scared of this feeling and I know it will pass.
Practice Being Present
Anxiety often intensifies when our minds are stuck on the same topic. This situation can be helped by training our mind to focus on the present. In the book Joy of Living, Meditation master and best-selling author Mingyur Rinpoche talks about how sometimes when we set out for a task like going to a restaurant or grocery store, we often reach the destination and wonder how we got there in the first place. We do this without paying attention to anything in between like the street names, the people, buildings, etc. We are completely consumed in our thoughts and away from the present moment.
Rinpoche says, “When you pay attention to what you see the crazy monkey mind settles down. Your mind becomes less agitated and you begin to develop a sense of calmness”.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Continue to put yourself in uncomfortable situations knowing you will experience feelings of anxiety but believing that you would get through it. For me fear of not pushing myself is higher than fear of anxiety. Don’t let your fears hold you back from reaching your full potential in life. It can be at your own pace crossing one barrier at a time!
Resources You Might Find Helpful
- Joy of living by Mingyur Rinpoche
- Understanding the Monkey Mind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-JiQubfMPg
- Simple Ways To Reduce Stress Right Now, https://www.facebook.com/TED/videos/235649231059231/