Though it can often feel like a nuisance, anxiety is a normal part of life that many of us experience from time to time. Regularly associated with fear, anxiety can manifest itself in various ways and can be triggered by several external factors, including stress related to work, family conflict, or relationship dynamics.
Learning to manage your anxiety, as well as finding effective coping strategies might seem overwhelming but can be a very practical and manageable part of struggling with anxiety.
My Journey With Anxiety
For me, my anxiety crept in when I retired from playing sledge hockey with Team Canada and committed to keynote speaking and workshops full-time.
Throughout my sledge hockey career, I was no stranger to attending and often speaking at various events. At the time, it all felt very natural, light, fun, and without the pressure to perform. So when I suddenly found myself excessively overthinking a presentation I’d successfully delivered for years, or becoming unreasonably nervous while on stage, to say I was alarmed would be an understatement.
Since childhood, I’ve never felt uncomfortable being in large group settings despite my introverted personality which often called for time alone to recharge. Yet here I was, feeling increasingly isolated, and falling down a rabbit hole of negative self-talk. Every day was spent lost in thoughts about my worth, my purpose, the stories I shared, and their ability to impact the lives I hoped to.
What was once a source of light-hearted fun was suddenly the cause of an irrational fear of being negatively judged by my audience. I was suddenly hyper-aware that if my stories didn’t resonate, I wouldn’t be invited back or recommended for the next gig. The unfounded belief that people wanted my presentations to fail left me in a constant battle with my self-esteem and confidence. I felt completely discouraged from accepting speaking opportunities and it further stifled my ability to be consistent on my social media platforms (one of my key marketing tools). Additionally, the more my confidence faded, the more I was hesitant to make calls to facilitate business endeavors due to a fear of rejection. The domino effect of negativity was becoming overwhelmingly real.
(If you’re struggling with work-related anxiety or burnout, read my tips on recovery here)
Prior to intentionally sitting down to research where these confusing thoughts, feelings, and episodes stemmed from, I simply chalked them up to being symptoms associated with the Post Olympic Crash, I knew I was in the midst of.
But once I finally sat down to get to the root cause, it was as if each author of the emotional and behavioral symptoms of anxiety was writing about me! Although I wasn’t exhibiting the physical traits of anxiety such as sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, or nausea, I was exhibiting distorted thoughts and an increasingly exacerbating false belief that everybody held a low or negative view of me.
(I also share some techniques to destroy negative thoughts here)
As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and the more I researched, the more I grew confident that I would be able to overcome my anxieties around public speaking. I found that implementing a combination of self-help techniques was a great first step in tackling my anxiety. These self-help strategies certainly helped me initially cope with, and ultimately overcome the obstacles I was facing, and I’ve outlined my top five below!
Implement These Five Strategies To Combat Your Anxiety
- Try to understand your anxiety more by writing down your thoughts
Be deliberate in the way you think and write about your thoughts, and how they impact how you show up in social situations. This can help you establish whether there’s a pattern or a particular setting or circumstance that triggers your anxiety.
Breaking things down into smaller chunks is equally advantageous, as detailed in my 3 Quick Tips to Journal Effectively to help you get started. Another way I collect my thoughts is through the “Dump. Sit. Flip” technique. Here, you “Brain Dump” all your negative thoughts on paper, let those thoughts “Sit” for up to 48 hours, and then ask yourself whether you still believe those thoughts to be true. Finally, you “Flip” those negative thoughts into a positive statement aimed at empowering you.
- Remember to check-in with yourself regularly
Ask yourself daily whether you’re actively taking care of yourself. Implementing healthy nutritional, sleep and exercise habits are all key elements to maintaining balance in your life.
Sometimes checking in with yourself can mean logging out of the social media accounts that aren’t positively contributing to your mental health. Perhaps it’s time to hide, block, or even delete certain accounts that may be giving you FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), distorting your view of yourself and reality, or are hindering your ability to stay focused at work and be productive.
- Remind yourself that people are “rooting for you, not against you”
People aren’t inherently bad, and the vast majority are your silent supporters who are cheering you on from behind the scenes – or in my case, right before my eyes! Whether it’s a pep talk with yourself, scheduling a reminder on your phone, or a good old-fashioned post-it note, calling attention to the fact that your audience is ultimately willing you to win is motivating! I’ve also found that shifting my mindset from “what can I get?” (which places focus on me) to “what can I give?” (which places the focus on helping others) has been a huge alleviation of my anxiety. It’s a lot harder to feel anxious when you know you’re helping people.
- Try some relaxation techniques
For me, the Headspace app has been a staple when it comes to relaxation. Whenever I need to calm my anxiety, this is my personal go-to. However, an app may not always be accessible or necessary for everyone.
There are also breathing techniques and exercises (from beginner to advanced level) that can be useful. A well-known example is the 4-7-8 technique in which you inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
- Go out and meet people…even if you don’t want to!
Mingling with the audience prior to a talk has always been a stimulating tactic for me. It has also been particularly effective when it comes to gauging what topics I should emphasize or speak more to in my talks.
If your challenge is around speaking up in meetings, having a chat beforehand with a smaller group of people who’ll also be present could prove to be very enlightening. Sharing how you feel with others often reveals relatability, which in turn fosters encouragement, as we’re usually not alone in how we feel.
(If you find yourself experiencing anxiety prior to virtual events, click here to instantly become more engaging on video.)
Don’t Let Anxiety Put Your Life on Hold
Anxiety doesn’t have to spell the end of your public speaking opportunities, or your ability to build new relationships, speak up in meetings or be generally worry-free during social interactions. Despite the plethora of online resources at our disposal, we are our most accessible resource. The more we align with ourselves, the easier it is to detect and remedy anxious situations. So the next time you feel anxiety creeping in, try implementing (at least one of) the coping strategies listed above.
What would you do or say if anxiety didn’t stop you? What coping strategies or methods have helped you improve your anxious feelings? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more below.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you succeed:
Whenever you are ready here are the 3 best ways I can help you:
- Get a FREE copy of my autobiography, Still Standing: When You Have Every Reason to Give Up, Keep Going (here)
- Looking for a speaker for your next event? Watch Kevin’s keynote reel on The Hero Mindset (here)
- Interested in team building? Come play and learn more about the Sledge Hockey Experience (here)