The Idea: Many of us understand one idea very personally. People that are highly accountable to “performance” are deeply susceptible to pressure, fear, and bouts of anxiety. Almost one in five U.S. adults have had suffered from anxiety disorder in the past year and nearly one in three have experienced an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Stress is corrosive and it’s the one thing everyone can feel within themselves and others alike.
Hidden Fears Control Us
The fear of looking foolish runs deep with me and still manifests itself in some level of social anxiety. It’s a typical behavior for anyone who has ever lived with an alcoholic parent or some other form of domestic trauma. A childhood filled with moments of embarrassment, and the paranoia and hypervigilance that followed, has proven hard to shake. A career facilitating leadership events and coaching programs has helped me grow past those stressors. Go figure.
The Back Stop
As a kid, I remember throwing a baseball against a back stop and tossing a football in the side yard until I felt confident enough to walk out and do it publicly. The fear of looking foolish dies a slow death, and it comes with the friends (or foe?) of working too long and finding it difficult to relax. Preparation was the one thing over which I had complete control.
A couple of years after college, I struggled with anxiety during any important sales appointment. Reminiscent of fourth grade, when I panicked when having to read in front of the class, I would hit a similar wall during sales meetings or training events.
What do you do when you work for a sales organization and you are afraid to sell? I was two years out of college and decided to commit the next three years to reading 500-600 books on influence, leadership, public speaking, anxiety management, and communication – all to break this pattern. I put myself in tense situations to get used to the pressures of public speaking. Out of a spirit of fear, I worked to find a voice that was personal, transparent, and real. Previously, when I would discuss a sales opportunity, I felt like an “imposter.” After years of work, I found my voice. I also learned:
- Communication and content mastery allow you the ability to stay present and to truly empathize with another. This must be in your own voice, not that of an imposter.
- If you want to manage stress, you must learn how to master the first 60 seconds of a talk or a presentation. You must authentically “own” the moment and “be” the moment, allowing yourself the freedom to be you with an audience.
- If you want to optimize a moment, you must determine what you need to get the most from yourself. What’s your system, your triggers, and your roadmap for tapping the best of who you are? Once you uncover your personal blueprint, stay disciplined and protect what works for you.
Alice Boyes, former clinical psychologist, suggests to relieve anxiety always starting with slow breaths rather than deep because they help stop feeling of panic, allowing long-term focus, activating the brains prepare-and-plan mindset. Boyes reminds herself that perfectionism creates unnecessary stress. Preparation, though, can solve it, even when that means reminding yourself to seek out discomfort.
Feelings of anxiety are normal but can derail the best of us. What is your personal plan for staying in the moment under pressure and have you found your best voice?