Thursday, December 4, 2008

the opposite of cool: speaker anxiety

I wrote recently about regulating your emotions so you can appear to stay cool during stressful events like public speaking, but that's only one half of the equation for women who are anxious or fearful about speaking. The Harvard Women's Health Watch newsletter's December issue includes a lead article on social anxiety disorder (a $3.95 download) -- one form of which involves specific anxiety around limited situations like public speaking, which may need more attention.

According to the article, specific social anxiety is less prevalent than the more generalized social anxiety, and primarily an issue if your work requires you to perform in public, and the symptoms may include:

...a racing heart, dry mouth, shaky voice, blushing, trembling, sweating, and nausea. In specific social anxiety, fear that people will notice these symptoms may impair performance, leading to a downward spiral in which worsening performance reinforces worsening anticipatory anxiety.
The article notes that about 12 percent of U.S. adults will go through a social phobia at some time during their lifetimes (near 28 million people currently) -- but 2/3 of them, or nearly 20 million, will be women. It's also "the third most prevalent psychiatric disorder, behind substance abuse and depression, and the most common anxiety disorder." So if you've been wondering whether women fear situations like public speaking more, here's your evidence.


The article goes on to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy -- to learn your fears and habitual thoughts, to help you face your fears, and to learn coping skills -- and/or anxiety medications. A speaker trainer can help you practice, but a therapist may be more helpful at getting to the root issues with this anxiety. You can find qualified therapists at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and information on support groups and other resources at the Social Anxiety Association. Chalk it up to protecting the health of the speaker!