How I Overcame Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Fear of Public Speaking (7 Steps)
Today I am going to share something a little bit different with you. It may not be food or nutrition related per say, but it is most certainly wellness related. Managing stress and anxiety also makes it easier to develop healthy habits, which is what I'm all about of course.
You might have (or might not have) noticed, but lately I have been working on more video posts, as I feel that it is more engaging for people to be able to see me and hear my message. However, writing also has many benefits as well. I can say what I want without having to go and edit a video (which takes longer); writing is also cathartic; and writing is a lot easier for people to save and read at their leisure (among other things of course).
However, I didn't always have the guts to put myself out there as much as I do now. So, I want to tell you a story...
Five years ago I had a MASSIVE fear of public speaking. My 'Intro to Public Speaking' professor, and anyone in that class with me could vouch.
My first assignment in the course was to give a 5 minute presentation about myself and my past. I had everything written down and typed up, and I still couldn't make it through the presentation. Not only did I have immense anxiety before the presentation, my hands were sweaty, my mind felt blank, my face felt hot, my heart raced, and when I stood in front of everyone I just couldn't find the words. My doctor even prescribed me Ativan to take before presentations, which worked a little but not completely. Even talking in groups (small or large) would illicit these insanely negative feelings.
I also used to get massive anxiety and panic attacks (I went to the ER for a panic attack once, before I knew what it was, because I felt like I was dying). If something happened that was very stressful, my chest would tighten, sending pain through my chest and my arms, and make it difficult to breathe. This happened several times a week for a bit. The fear of public speaking and the panic attacks may have been related, who knows.
Now, I want to tell you...
I haven't had a panic or anxiety attack, or felt above average nervousness giving a presentation, for THREE years. I have given countless presentations to both small and large groups (even hundreds of people!), taught university courses, recorded videos, and done Facebook live chats to my page which has over 3000 members, and to the No Excuse Mom Facebook page which has 60,000 members! I most definitely don't have to take Ativan anymore for presentations (and haven't for years). I still get a bit nervous...like your average nervousness before anything important such as a presentation, but nothing near before. I actually tell myself that I am excited (which I am), and I'm able to get through hour+ presentations without shaking, and without even looking at notes. Life still throws me stressful events - probably even more stressful (I do have 4 children!) - but I still do not have anxiety or panic attacks (okay maybe ONE in the past 3 years, when our van basically blew up when we were driving on the highway with our four children, and we knew it was wrote off). But Richard quickly talked me out of it and it lasted about 30 seconds. I am human.
Why am I telling you this? Well for one if you're still reading - thank you. And two, hopefully at least one person can take something positive away from this.
How I overcame anxiety, panic attacks, and fear of public speaking:
1) I accepted what I was dealing with, and that I wasn't alone. I accepted that I had panic and anxiety attacks, I did some reading on them; I even read a self-help book (there are tons). So first I want you to know...panic, anxiety attacks, and fears are very real. These are even be classified as mental health disorders, along with others such as depression. Five years ago, people would look at me and not consider me to be someone who struggled with these things (the only person that really knew was my husband). Most of the time I struggled alone, because it was embarrassing (more people knew about my public speaking fear, because I couldn't really hide it). Anyone can struggle with their mental health in some way shape or form. You may think that you're alone, or that you're somehow flawed, but you are not. The statistics are out there - there are hundreds of millions of people that are affected by at least one or many mental health disorders (e.g., anxiety, panic attacks), or a fear such as fear of public speaking, at least some point in their life. So know and accept that you are not alone, and you are not flawed.
2) I threw myself into everything that scared me, and I practiced. My personal idol has always been Oprah. Ever since reading her biography and autobiography (here's an article that gives a glimpse of her history) - I realized that she literally came from nothing, and worked hard, and achieved greatness. I told myself that I was no different. I knew that I wanted to become a dietitian, but my ultimate goal was to be in the media and the public promoting my health and wellness messages. So clearly...I had to get over my fear of public speaking.
I also knew if I wanted to overcome my fears I had to keep putting myself into situations that scared me...because practice makes perfect, as with anything in life (no one is successful at anything first starting off. Well I'm sure there are some exceptions but you know what I mean). I enrolled in an 'Intro to Public Speaking' course, I volunteered for presentations, I applied for a teaching position, etc. Each and every one of these things scared me. Even practicing for presentations scared me, but I did it! And even though the practice round(s) may have sucked, it made the actual presentation better. It probably took me a year or two of doing this, and hundreds of presentations and speeches, before I actually overcame this. But slowly and slowly I got a better (and still am)...and was it all worth it? Heck yes!
3) I overcame my fear of failure.
"Success is often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable." ― Coco Chanel
"Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure." ― George Edward Woodberry
And probably the most powerful and my favourite:
“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ― Michael Jordan
Sure this one may be similar to the last point, but it deserves it's own section. In order to keep throwing yourself into things that your afraid of, it's important to get better at understanding that failing is inevitable to succeeding. Reading self-help books such as 'Think and Grow Rich' helped me realize this. Every single person is afraid of failing in some way (even I still am). What's important to realize, is that we all have to start somewhere, and there is nothing wrong with failing. As long as we learn from it, and pick yourself back up (even if you fail 100 times), and get back on that horse again.
To give you an example of this, putting myself out there in social media scares me, and always did. To the point where I used to not post much of my thoughts (and especially wouldn't do video). It's difficult when you know how mean people can be online (damn keyboard warriors). What if my posts aren't perfect? (Which they aren't). Now, I do it anyway. I post what I feel like posting, and if my posts or my videos don't do so well, then I learn from that and move on.
4) I stopped comparing myself to others (for the most part), which helped me stop caring what others thought (again for the most part). (This one definitely helped with the anxiety and panic attacks.)
“As a matter of fact, we are none of us above criticism; so let us bear with each other's faults.” ― L. Frank Baum
Everyone does this to some extent - we can't help it. We compare ourselves to others, and we are afraid of being judged. Especially because the majority of the time when we get a glimpse of other people's lives, we see the 'highlight reels' (the best parts). Seeing this over and over makes us think that our lives 'don't measure up', and if we tell ourselves that enough times, bring on the anxiety. What we need to realize is that no one is perfect. No one has it all together in every aspect of life. Some of us have it all together in the career aspect, but suffer in housecleaning, others may not have it all together with their career (yet), but their house is immaculate. That person that does have it all together in their career now, may have not had it all together years ago, and that person who sucks at housecleaning now, may get better over time. This is just ONE example of countless.
We don't all have it together in all aspects of life, all of the time, so accept that. And anyone who does feel that they have it all together, and 'holier than thou' enough to judge another person for not living up to 'their' unqualified standards, well that's on them and not you. I think being a parent to multiple children helped me not compare myself to others too, because I understand how difficult it is to 'life' with children, and I know that we all do the best that we can (and most people know that too!).
5) I got better at asking for help when I needed it. For one, I was offered free counselling through my school - so I took it! I personally think everyone could use counselling at some point in their lives. Not only was it a place to vent (which is cathartic enough as it is), but any good counsellor will help you feel like you are actually sane, like what you are going through is normal (because it is), and they help you with strategies to overcome what you're going through - who couldn't use that?!
I also learned how to communicate better with others. This was done in part by accepting that I am human and make mistakes, so I could openly and honestly communicate this with people. This helped me get things off my chest easier, which again helped with the stress and anxiety.
6) I realized how important my close relationships were, and I stopped burning bridges. I mean close family relationships, and the relationships where I could be myself; where I could make mistakes and they would understand (as long as I was able to own up to my mistakes of course); where I could be busy for awhile and not keep in touch, and we would still be close. These are the relationships you want to nurture, and accept if that person makes mistakes (because again we're not all perfect, and they would do the same for you right?), and let things go and not hold grudges for little things. Now, this doesn't mean that I haven't lost contact with people, because some relationships drift apart and that's okay. However I stopped letting anger and negativity take over to the point where mean things were said and bridges were burned (and if less nice things happen to be said in the heat of the moment...I would apologize of course).
7) I did improve my overall healthy behaviours. Overall I have a better diet, I started exercising, getting better sleep, etc., which has shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. Yes being a dietitian helped with these, so if you need help in any of these areas reach out to me!
Keep in mind:
None of these happened overnight, and the journey itself wasn't always easy. Also guess what? I'm still not perfect in all of these areas! Not even close. I still have ups and downs. But I have gotten better (hello to no more panic/anxiety attacks or fear of public speaking), and that is what life is all about - personal growth. And you know what else is not easy? Suffering with anxiety, panic attacks, fears, etc., so just know that it is possible to overcome them, and all you can do is keep doing your best with the situation you currently have.
Making a video like this 5 years ago would not have been an option for me. Presenting in front of people would be a nightmare, but now I do it all of the time and love it. Again life is stressful at times but no panic or anxiety. We can overcome anything. You might think that depression, anxiety, panic attacks, public speaking fears, or any fear might last forever, but you can take small baby steps (as with anything in life), and you can and WILL overcome it. I am living proof!
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Felicia Newell is a Nutritionist, Dietitian (candidate), Food and Nutrition Expert, Health Coach, and a mom of 4 boys under 6! She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition. Felicia wears many hats, and knows what it is like to try and live healthy in a busy world, where our environments aren't always supportive of making healthy choices.
Life is busy, confusing at times, and full of contradictions, especially in the world of health and wellness. Felicia is passionate in helping others fight through the misinformation out there, and to navigate life and health, but most importantly, to enjoy the crap out of it while doing it.
She has over 11 years of education and experience in Nutritional sciences. Between completing her Bachelor and Masters in Nutritional Sciences, working at a food security research centre, teaching university courses, years of nutrition counselling, and being a busy mom of 4 young boys, she has the passion, skills, education, and experience to help others reach their health and nutrition goals.