How often have your heard the phrase ‘What’s the worse that could happen’, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ ‘Accepting what you can’t control’, or ‘Don’t worry what other people think’. You may have friends or family members say these things to you if you happen to suffer with social anxiety or shyness. I admit that I have used these myself before, but for those that suffer with shyness or social anxiety it may not be so easy to put these into practice as they are both emotional reactions that happen automatically in your mind that you have almost no control over. People don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘I think I will be shy and anxious today’ but you do have more control than you think.
Well those phrases came into my mind the day I had to deliver a secondary school assembly for Sexual Violence Awareness week, which in itself is not a easy or cheery subject, but one that is really important for our young people
Part of my work is supporting young people through a charity called the Safe Project. They support children and young people who have been affected by or victims of crime or bullying. Having worked with young people for many many years I am very confident in working on a 1:1 or small group basis helping them through their difficulties. Safe Project are responsible for delivering some of these assemblies so I got the phone call from them asking me if I could deliver one of the said assemblies.
My immediate reaction was ‘yeah I can do that, no problem at all, thanks for asking me’. It wasn’t long after, that the realisation of what I had agreed to do sunk in. I had never delivered a presentation of this scale and now I was going to be faced with a school hall full of over 300 teenagers and their tutors, gulp!!!!!!.
I had only two days to prepare myself, so I set about reading the presentation, making sure it was on my laptop, creating a crib sheet of notes for me to refer to. As this was all new to me I was told, ‘Don’t worry too much if you don’t want to do much talking, the presentation is great and very self explanatory’ there were two key videos embedded within the presentation one of which was a funny scene from The Big Bang Theory. I figured with the presentation to refer to this would be easy.
The morning arrived and I made sure I was there in plenty of time and with 10 minutes to spare I plugged in the laptop and with the big white projector screen next to me I clicked on the presentation, and this happened……..
Not only did the computer say no but the IT man at the school also said no when he tried to help, I could feel the colour draining from my face, all sorts of obscene words going through my head **** and the teacher in charge looking at me. ‘When does the assembly start’ I said, she replied ‘Now’ and with that children from year 7 to sixth form piled into the assembly quietly and quickly and all looking at me expectedly.
The fight, flight or freeze feeling kicked in and I had a mere few seconds to decide what to do……………
So which option did I chose?
The only realisitic option available to me was to stay and fight my way through it and try and talk for 20 minutes using what was in my head and my crib sheet (which had become rather crumpled from me holding it so tightly with sweaty palms.)
After a few deep breaths and some internal ‘Go Me’ dialogue I did it, I managed to deliver what was a reasonably informative presentation and I live to tell the tale.
Fear and anxiety can sometimes feel as if they ‘just happen to us’, especially in those moments when things don’t go to plan, but we have much more control than we realise.
AWARE is an acronym standing for:
A: Accept the anxiety. Don’t try to fight it.
W: Watch the anxiety. Just watch it and when you notice it, scale your level of fear and start to breathe longer on the out-breath.
A: Stands for ‘Act normally’. Carry on talking or behaving as if nothing is different. This sends a powerful signal to your unconscious mind that its over-dramatic response is actually not needed because nothing that unusual is going on. Like fire fighters coming out and seeing that no emergency is happening and so going back to the fire station.
R: Repeat the above steps in your mind if necessary.
E: Expect the best. One of the greatest feelings in life is the realisation that you can control fear much more than you thought possible.