Talking in front of large groups or individuals can be tough for anybody living with social anxiety. I prefer to be around a friend or somebody I’m familiar with when speaking to one or several new people (and a bit of Dutch courage might help me too!). However, in the workplace you will not always have a friend around to ease the stress, and taking a few sips of brave juice during daylight hours at work is frowned on by most people, especially your boss. So I’ve had to find some new ways to cope.
Working in a school, I spend much of my day commanding the attention of 30+ children, often whilst under the watchful eyes of other members of staff. I feel I don’t really need to stress that the other members of staff are not malicious in anyway, however with anxiety it always feels as if I am being judged on everything I do or say. With this in mind, it is incredibly difficult to raise my voice and garner the attention of all these people in order to do what needs to be done. And, as anybody that has worked with children can confirm, displaying any lack of confidence can lead to immediate loss of control and burgeoning chaos.
Getting the attention is the easy bit. One raised hand or call for silence works or, more often than not, I am put on the spot by someone else. But when it’s all eyes on me, the doubt sinks in and it can be hard not to shrink away and let control slip. This can happen in an office meeting, training session or any other scenario where I’m centre of attention.
The first thing I remind myself is that once I have the attention, not speaking at all would look infinitely more ridiculous than anything I intended to say. I also aim to gather the words that I need before I am in the spotlight. I know once I am being watched, the anxiety voice can creep in and derail my train of thought and I don’t want to feel like a bumbling fool with an uninspired audience. Preparation goes a very long way.
Another important factor that requires preparation and some practice is maintaining an even, assured tone. Again I am very familiar with the creeping whimper that sneaks in when we let anxiety take control. Half way through a sentence my voice breaks, all the thoughts leave my head and communication between brain and mouth is extinguished. It took a lot of rehearsal to try to improve, and still happens frequently. However, in a work environment, this is not the best situation to be in. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post (How I learned to cope with confrontation), the way you speak and present yourself goes a long way. Act confident and you will feel confident. It is a cliché for a reason. (Check out the work of psychologist Amy Cuddy on this).
Remember, the time you spend talking is usually very brief. If it helps you can always hide away in private afterwards. We know speaking up can be quite overwhelming for someone who doesn’t like the spotlight and it’s important to factor in some ‘recovery time’ alone. Excusing yourself to use the restroom is a simple way to go and compose yourself for a few minutes after you’ve spoken. For me this is the most beneficial way of coping. It gives me a goal. Get the public speaking part out of the way then using a few moments alone to remedy any negative thoughts I’m having. This can bolster my confidence for the rest of the day.
Do you have any other methods to deal with anxiety at work? Or is there another area that you’re finding challenging? Feel free to engage in the conversation and share your ideas below and, as always, I hope this article helps you feel less alone.