We all know that fear is a mental construct don’t we?
It’s all in your head they say.
You’ve probably heard the old saw about FEAR being False Evidence Appearing Real.
It’s catchy and memorable but is it right?
Here’s the thing to ask yourself. If it’s all in your head why do you feel so bad physically when you’re scared? When the fear of public speaking or presenting grips you, you know about it because your body reacts in certain predictable ways; often uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing ways. It’s the same for high stakes selling or negotiating situations or difficult conversations with a friend or family member. Our body lets us know we’re scared.
This is because there is a very real link between what and how we think and how we feel and behave physically. The reverse is also true; how we feel can readily influence how we think and it can definitely influence the quality of our thinking.
Here’s a relatively simplistic view of the overall mental and physiological processes that we call fear. It might well help you to know this basic sequence of events is happening the next time you experience fear because you can learn to break the cycle.
One thing I’d like to stress here before we go any further is this; it’s actually sensible to be scared. Fear is generally regarded as being a beneficial emotional reaction for you to have. Without it you simply wouldn’t live too long. Having realistic fears about snakes, heights and fast moving traffic will keep you alive longer than say picking up sidewinders, walking carelessly along cliff edges and crossing the street without looking left and right. Obvious yes?
Your brain uses two routes – fast and slow. The fast route is a fully automatic “shoot first ask questions later” mode where your thalamus (the bit that gets the raw and largely unprocessed sensory information) talks to your amygdala to kick in and prepare to start the adrenal-cortical system via the hypothalamus. This is the fight or flight bit.
The slow route utilises your more complex sensory processing facility (the sensory cortex), your hippocampus and your pre-frontal cortex to formally decide whether the threat is actually real and if not it will “stand down” the hypothalamus and amygdala response – in other words you feel a few moments of panic then you calm down.
Unless you learn and practice rationalising the signals your brain generates when thinking about public speaking the amygdala can be hijacked by the initial thalamus signals and you will get your classic stage fright or freezing fear of public speaking. You can control it with practice and you can lessen the effects until fear of public speaking no longer holds you in its thrall.
I’ve put together a free e-book with 7 top tips for reducing nerves when speaking in public.
Believe in them and practice the methods to deal with them and you will improve your control and reduce your nerves. Who knows, you may even come to enjoy pubic speaking.
For me, it's all about helping people to maximise their emotional intelligence and their mental resilience.
I help stressed people get their mojo back.
Check out my popular book "The Resilient Professional"