Has this ever happened to you?
Your heart is beating wildly, you can barely get your breath, your hands are shaking, you may be sweating, your visual field narrows, and it’s almost impossible to think, much less speak. While there is no actual physical danger, facing a firing squad might feel just as bad. What has happened? Your fight/flight instincts have taken over and hijacked the rest of your brain – that means your thinking brain where you stored your presentation, is now partially or completely offline. Most of my clients who have some dread and dislike of public speaking have experienced an anxiety attack at least once, often prompting their first call to my office. During that first call, I reassure them that these episodes can be reduced and then overcome. Here are three techniques for regaining control in those dreaded moments.
It’s about breathing OUT!
- In a private place, stand up, feel the soles of your feet and press them gently and firmly into the floor.
- Whether you are inhaling or exhaling right now, SLOWLY breath out all the air in your lungs, then pause for 2 seconds when they feel empty.
- Now, allow yourself to take air in naturally until your lungs feel comfortable, but not over inflated.
- Continue to keep some of your attention focused on the soles of your feet pressing into the ground. You can even imagine that you are releasing tension down through your body and out of your feet.
- Repeat steps 2 through 4 until you have gone through the cycle 5 or 6 times. You should notice that you feel calmer than you were at the beginning.
NOTE: If you’re in a public setting, you can change the steps above, and do a smaller, invisible version: Press your feet into the floor where you are sitting, and every few breaths, just sigh, breathing silently out, repeating as needed.
Now that you can breathe again, the next step is about regaining conscious control of your body and mind.
Grounding yourself physically is an antidote to the intensity of fear
- You have already started grounding through your feet. Now place your hands on something solid, and really notice how it feels. If there’s something to grip, pay close attention to the sensations in your hands.
- If other parts of your body are leaning against anything or sitting, increase that contact so you can feel these solid objects.
- Mentally name the parts of your body and what they are touching.
- Mentally tell yourself the year, date, day and time. Repeat slowly until you know you are in the present moment.
- Paradoxically, attention to your body can help you get back to your thinking brain.
Regain then maintain focus
- Come back to your original task and focus on a single, simple action you can take. Don’t let your mind race ahead.
- Whatever the task, it has a purpose of its own that is not about you. Keep your focus on the task and not on yourself.
- Continue to focus on only one step at a time. If anxious thoughts distract you, re-focus as quickly as possible.
With the above 3 steps, you should be able to diminish an anxiety attack enough to finish what you have started, and you will be very glad that you did.