Dear Christine, Nervous in New Haven

  • Posted on October 9, 2017 at 11:08 am

Dear Christine,
I’ve been asked to do a 10 minute speech to my coworkers because I won sales person of the month for 8 consecutive months. They want me to speak at our annual banquet in late November. I have a secret that no one knows at work. I am terrified to speak in public. Last time I did it in college I got tunnel vision during my speech but somehow managed to finish it. At least I think I did. It was all a blur afterwards. Should I tell them and decline, or is there a way to get over the fear? I’m embarrassed by it.
Signed, Nervous in New Haven

Dear Nervous, Welcome to the club!  The number one fear that human beings share is fear of public speaking!  More of us fear that than death!  There are some things you can do to prepare and possibly reduce your anxiety before your debut performance in November.  Prepare, of course.  Know yourself.  Do you do better by reading directly from a script or using notes or an outline.  I just read an interview with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.  She wouldn’t show the interviewer her script she reads from, as she marks it up with all sorts of stars, arrows, squiggly lines and underlines, to help her get the pacing, breathing and emphases where she wants them.  I do a similar mark up of anything I have to deliver publically (I was a pastor for a number of years, so I got lots of practice, but never got totally rid of the nervousness.  Several years after leaving the pastorate, I diagnosed myself as dyslexic.  No wonder I couldn’t read a script out loud!  My eyes jump all over the place!  Turns out it wasn’t all nervousness, but a neurological condition I always battled, but never had named before).
If you have some dyslexia, you might find it helpful to wear lightly tinted glasses.  There is a treatment program called “Irlen Method” which utilizes clear plastic overlays that have a tint of color to them, or the wearing of tinted glasses while reading.  They have a whole diagnostic process that I went through and found helpful, but for me, the bottom line is to avoid bright light on what I’m reading and wearing any color of lightly tinted sunglasses improves my fluency.  If you are interested in exploring this, there are practitioners in the metro Detroit area that are trained in the Irlen Method.  Check out this information.
“The Irlen Method is non-invasive technology that uses colored overlays and filters to improve the brain’s ability to process visual information. It is the only method scientifically proven to successfully correct the processing problems associated with Irlen Syndrome.”
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Another useful tool to learn before you need to speak in public are some Energy Psychology techniques  and/or “tapping methods” to reduce emotions.  There are a number of these techniques around and many are available on line.  Various local social workers, psychologists and counselors have also been trained in some of these.  One is called EFT:  Emotional Freedom Technique by Gary Craig.  It is a pretty simple process of thinking about what is upsetting while tapping on various chi points, or meridians on the face and hands.  Chi is the life force that Chinese medicine works with, using pressure on these energy points in acupressure  and needles on these points in acupuncture.  The theory behind these tapping techniques is that negative emotions disrupt the flow of energy around and through the body, and that the tapping restores the body’s energy balance.

If you are interested in learning more about this, call a local therapist who can train you face to face or check out Gary Craig at you can read about it and watch videos.  These tapping techniques are used for trauma around the world, including veterans with PTSD and survivors of trauma, whether that is from a hurricane or physical violence.  It can help a lot with phobias and fears as well.  I have used these techniques in my own life and with my clients for nearly 20 years, and I managed to eliminate agoraphobia and fear of driving after I had a frightening car accident 25 years ago.  Though results can be immediate, if the issue like mine is complex with lots of facets, it may take a number of times of using the technique on all the different ways that issue affects you.   I tapped my way through a variety of different driving conditions that caused me anxiety, such as sudden downpours, car accidents, construction on a highway, black ice and getting lost, particularly in the dark.  I went from driving 18K miles a year, filling my gas tank every 4-5 days, to only driving 1 gas tank per month until I began using these tapping techniques.
It can also be helpful to do breath work therapy.  “Breath work is a general term used to describe any type of therapy that utilizes breathing exercises to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health. Many forms of breath work therapy exist today, each with their own unique methods of using breath for healing purposes.”
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Yoga can also facilitate learning to calm your body and focus clearly, using breath and holding poses.  There are lots of yoga studios around as well as apps for your phone or YouTube videos that you can use in the privacy of your home.
Make sure you are doing everything to take care of yourself:  get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, eat regularly and only eat healthy fruits and vegetables and proteins and go light on processed foods and carbs.  Exercise several times a week, the kind that raises your heart rate to where it’s hard to carry a conversation.  Get outdoors.  Being around trees, grass and nature is something that Japanese doctors prescribe, calling it Shinrin Yoku or “Forest Bathing.”  The energy of being, even just sitting among trees is good medicine.  Also, make sure you give and take hugs regularly with loved ones, and have time to socialize as well as time to be alone.  A tall order these days, to do all of that to take care of yourself.  But the more you can do, the healthier your immune system will be, and the more resilient your body and mind will be when faced with stressors like public speaking.  Good luck to you, and my hope is that you can get through your speech successfully (tell a joke! It breaks the tension for you and your listeners) and maybe even enjoy it! Christine Cantrell, PhD
Fully Licensed Psychologist

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067

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