I spend most of my time dealing with imaginary disasters. I’m a fortunate teller for my own life, (or in this case forsh** teller because it’s never good news).
On Thursday I did a speech at charity event in front of around one hundred people. The charity was In Mind of Violet and I agreed to talk about my experiences with Social Anxiety. I was totally cool with the idea back in January when they first approached me, (I’m very good at denial). But by Thursday morning I was thinking “Oh Christ, what have I done? Why did I think I could do this? It’s going to be humiliating and I’ll let everybody down.”
I can remember exactly what I imagined would happen. I still have it memorised in slide by slide fashion.
**initiate dream like sequence**
I walk up to the stage with my legs trembling, everyone is staring at me expectantly. It’s silent. I have a panic attack on stage and when I start to speak my voice shakes. I’m blushing and everyone is embarrassed on my behalf. After sixty seconds I give up, mutter my apologies and run off in tears.
That’s horrible isn’t it? Enough to make anyone cringe. Well….. IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!
I’m not saying that those last fifteen minutes beforehand were hunky dory and I’m not going to deny that I had a large glass of wine! It didn’t help that the lighting in there was brighter than a fancy hair salon.
Sitting in the corridor outside I stared at the wall blankly, while the butterflies gnawed at my stomach. I could still bottle it and run away if I wanted to, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t.
As I heard Julian, one of the organisers call my name to the stage I suddenly thought f**k it! – and ran through the crowds like I was a bloody rock star late for a gig or something!
I don’t actually remember much of the experience. But I do know that people were laughing (in a good way), and when I finished I received a thunderous round of applause. It was an honour to be there and everyone was so kind and encouraging. The whole thing was a great success.
The experience gave me a desire to address one of the biggest aspects of my anxiety; CATASTROPHISING. I’ve always been aware that this is something I do. It’s one of my core ‘thinking errors,’ to speak in CBT terms. But I’ve finally realised how strong this urge is and the impact it has on my stress levels.
It all comes down to one basic message – ‘a fear of failure.’ Particularly in work or social related situations. I think in very basic terms ‘success’ or ‘failure’ – I either get something 100% right or the whole thing is shit.
Waiting is a ‘trigger’ for me. As in, if I have to wait one hour before I can go on stage (which is what happened on Thursday). My brain had sixty minutes to conjure up with all kinds of nightmares.
I obsess about what might happen, rather than focusing on what needs to be done.
For example, I really believed that my ‘imaginary stage disaster’ would happen and I even thought about how I would handle the situation afterwards, which is ridiculous! I imagined sending emails to the event organisers, apologising for my performance.
My brain was already convinced that the worst had happened and this consequently caused a panic attack. My body was tricked into believing that I was about to put myself in a dangerous situation. Sweating, trembling, rocking, you name it I had it! I can’t believe how worked up I got.
I need to find a way of using ‘waiting time’ and channeling the energy in a more positive way. I don’t do Mindfulness exercise and I don’t meditate. I’ve tried both and they’re just not for me. Anything that requires me to focus on my breathing just stresses me out even more!
I can’t control how other people will react or whether they’ll like what I say and I accept this. However, I can control how I behave and how I treat myself. It sounds obvious, but this is something I’ve overlooked lately.
I think I’m going to come up with a ‘pre-stressful situation check list:’
- Have you prepared? (If it’s a meeting)
- CBT thinking errors exercise – don’t allow the thoughts to circulate unchallenged
- Write down three great things about myself
- Imagine the situation going really well. E.g. How would I feel if I knew I couldn’t fail?
- Visual the butterflies as excited energy, rather than fear.
It’s a work in progress and I’ll write an update when I have something more concrete. I’m open to suggestions though! I’m also going to buy some sports psychology books, as they’re supposed to be good for performance anxiety.
Anyway, thank you all for your good wishes last week. It really helped 🙂