Public Speaking and Panic Attacks

panic attacks and public speakingDid you know that a lot of people rank fear of public speaking as their top fear? — Even over death?

Public speaking does not have to mean standing at a podium or giving a formal speech. Events that cause anxiety and panic attacks can be as simple as a gathering at a party or an office meeting. Anywhere the anxious person is expected to express thoughts, opinions or give feedback.

When it comes to public speaking and panic attacks, I have a long history. Over the years I remember cringing at the mere thought of having Sunday dinner at my high school boyfriend’s house. He had a large family and I used to just feel so trapped at that dinner table. I’d stuff my face with food and pray that no one would talk to me.

I had many, many panic attacks at that dinner table and many other dinner tables.

When I lived in New York City in my 20s, I remember going to comedy clubs after work with friends. The actors would good naturedly pick on people in the audience. I remember just shrinking in my chair hoping and praying to God I wouldn’t get noticed or singled out.

Four years ago, I was working at a local ICU (I’m a registered nurse). One of the doctors had a *brilliant* idea that we should have “grand rounds” in the morning, where each nurse would present her patients to the rest of the staff.

I was so terrified when this new policy was implemented. I did everything I could to avoid going to rounds, but then they made attendance mandatory. It was hell for me. In fact, on top of the mega high dose of Klonopin I was on at the time, I had to add 3mg of Xanax just to be able to present my patients at rounds. It really sucked. :(

How I helped myself without even knowing it.

By showing up every stinking day for those rounds at the hospital, it did start to get better. Little by little. At the time I didn’t know much about not adding 2nd fear, so I automatically added tons of it. I took all the extra medicine to numb myself from all my 2nd fear. That made it take longer to get better. But me showing up and going through the actual “public speaking” was crucial. If I transferred to another unit or quit my job to avoid this, I never would have made it to the other side.

Public speaking has been one of my biggest challenges, and continues to be to this day. But I’m working on it. :)

I recently stopped going to a really great Al-Anon meeting because of this public speaking fear. In this meeting, we all sit around in a big circle and go around the circle sharing one by one. (Something about this type of seating arrangement has always bothered me). As the time to speak would come around to me, I would have huge waves of panic. When it was my turn to speak, I could not. I was rendered mute by my anxiety. I had panic attack after panic attack after panic attack at that meeting. To the point where I got so discouraged I finally quit going altogether. :(

What I Plan To Do About It…

My challenge is to go back to that meeting in small increments (with gradual exposure therapy):  Next Monday I will prepare by reviewing listening to my Stop Panic Attacks self hypnosis recording about one hour before the meeting. Then I will go and just sit through the meeting. When it is my turn to share, if I am close to a panic attack I will just say “Pass.”

Once I can just sit there without sharing, then I will start to speak up when it’s my turn. I will prepare what I have to say before I go, so I don’t have to think. Rinse and repeat.

From there I should be fine. I have to recognize that I did the best that I could at the time by leaving the meeting. I didn’t want to have to take a bunch of pills to numb myself. I prayed on this for awhile and this plan is what I came up with.

It’s a big meeting with over 30 people, but I know I can do it. The anxious part of me wants to never go to that meeting again, but I know I cannot avoid situations or my world will become small again. I refuse to let that happen.

What about you? Have you had problems with public speaking and panic attacks?

I wish you peace,
Jill G.

ps. By now you may know that I’ve been using Panic Away and I really like it. When I bought the course I received some really great emails that I’d like to share with you. They are jam packed with useful tips for coping with anxiety and panic attacks. In fact, I was going over the one for public speaking recently and that’s how I came up with my plan to reintroduce myself to that Al-Anon meeting. If you’d like these free emails, click here. I’m happy to share.  :)

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2 Responses to Public Speaking and Panic Attacks

  1. Jill, I have a real love hate feeling about public speaking In spite of panic and anxiety it is something I do and do well and actually enjoy in spite of feeling awful often. Last week was a perfect example. I was giving a talk to Elderhostel about our farm and my weaving. I’m talking using my slide show as prompts. At the same time I am feeling dizzy as I usually do, and started to have pains in my stomach and across my shoulders. So, at the same time I am talking about lettuce, I am screaming inside, “I’m having a heart attack” and, telling myself, “no your not, breathe, it’s just panic and the fact that you just ran up the stairs carrying a very heavy basket because you were late” (hate being late). Talked about schizoid. All 3 dialogues were going on at the same time. This is how I live. I refuse to give up doing things I enjoy because I get anxious, but it’s an endurance feat. Anyway, I finished the talk, didn’t faint (my big fear), didn’t have a heart attack, got lots of good questions and got stopped on the street a couple of hours later by several participants and told how much they enjoyed my talk. And NOONE knew how anxious I felt.

    • JillG says:

      Hi Margaret,

      Wow, that’s amazing that you were having all that going on in your head and STILL managed to deliver a wonderful talk! :) That’s not schizoid, that is super magnificent multitasking if you ask me! I too have the love hate thing with public speaking. When I was in grad school, I had to give oral reports for every class, and I am a certified public school teacher. So part of me really likes being in front of people, but when my anxiety takes over, it is the worst. Like that Al-Anon meeting I talked about, I really have to work myself up to go back to it.

      I was talking to another girl the other day with anxiety issues. What we have to go through daily in our lives, we make superheroes pale in comparison, lol. ;)

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