What is stage fright?
Stage Fright and fear of public speaking are types of social phobia. But just what is stage fright? It is an intense fear that when you’re speaking to people you are being judged, you fear you’ll make mistakes, get it wrong and make a fool of yourself. Then you feel embarrassed or even humiliated by the situation – this causes you anxiety, dread and avoidance, it can even lead to a full blown panic attack.
What is Stage Fright
If you suffer from stage fright then you may recognise that the fear is excessive and unreasonable but at the same time you feel powerless to do anything to change your response. The situations that cause the strongest stage fright, things like presentations, staged events, public performances, wedding speeches, competitions, meetings, interviews or even one-to-ones – will be avoided at all cost and when they can’t be avoided then they’ll be endured with intense anxiety or distress.
In the corporate work place you can have lots of problems… If you’re expected to attend formal meetings in work or worse still actually have to do a formal presentation, these are the most common work situations that trigger stage fright. Often if you start fearing these situations the stage fright can begin to spread to even smaller groups, to conference calls, to informal situations like dining out or even one-on-one conversations (especially if they are more senior than you), it can also spread to things like introducing yourself on a course or in a group. It can even end up spilling into social situations with friends and family.
What happens during stage fright?
When you feel that all eyes are on you, this is called the “Spotlight Effect” .When you are under this effect, your acute self-awareness makes it very difficult to focus on what is really going on around you, so remembering your lines or your speech, even reading from your notes or follow a meeting becomes almost impossible. Your mind goes foggy or blank and your distress is further fueled by all the efforts to hide or mask your discomfort. And when this strikes it can trigger blushing, facial immobility, sweating, shaking, twitching, or an inability to speak normally or coherently. Now that’s a lot to hide!
You may even have some of these feelings for some time before the event – weeks or even months beforehand! This is often accompanied by sleeping problems and loss of appetite. Life becomes a nightmare from the moment you know you have to speak. It can feel like a death sentence!
And it doesn’t end there. Even after the event these feelings may linger, as you analyse and ruminate on how you did, going over and over it in your mind, wondering how other people may have judged you.Fear of public speaking really is not the same as shyness, it goes way beyond butterflies, it is a much more intense and debilitating fear. At its worst it will end in a full blown panic attack.
Who does it affect?
Most people with a stage fright are normal, intelligent and usually well-balanced, usually happy… and they usually come across to friends and colleagues as confident even outgoing.
When I began this work I was very surprised at how many people who very successful, having risen through the ranks, to a level in their career where they are more often requested to share their knowledge, their expertise and lead projects, teams and departments. Now to you this might sound great – sound like real success.. but when you suffer with stage fright – this feels like the worst thing that could happen to you.
Stage fright is hanging over them, blocking them, frustrating them because a part of them (the rational thinking part) knows that it doesn’t make sense. They know their subject – that’s why they have been asked to talk – and they know the situation is non-threatening. But they still find that when they are asked to talk in front of a group, it triggers stress and fear just floods in.
In my experience it is the more imaginative, creative or artistic people who are prone to developing phobias. This is because phobias have a lot to do with the misuse of the imagination. That’s why I’ve had all kinds of people as clients: from psychiatrists to politicians, from students to city bankers terrified of the spotlight (see the “Spotlight Effect” above). I have worked with them all and at all extremes: from mild panic to people who have passed out when performing, presenting or speaking in public.
What causes it?
Stage fright can be caused by many things. Often there is a childhood experience or perhaps shyness that was reinforced by bad experiences of reading aloud in class or presenting work at college or university. Humiliation and bullying experiences that were somehow related to speaking or performing, and even done “For the good of the child” can set up the response that is now trigger whenever stage fright is experienced.
It can also start later in life, especially at times when your general stress levels are heightened by other things like relationships or work. I’m sure you’ve heard of that list of top stressful experiences in life, things like death of a loved one – or moving house.
Then something else happens, it can be quite small and seemingly insignificant, but it’s just one thing too much, like the straw that broke the camels back! You just can’t cope, and this can also take you close to a mild panic attack. This is frightening and embarrassing. It destroys self-confidence. And it builds into a phobia as you fear it will happening again and then begins the panic about panicking, to fear the fear. See the stage fright cycle, which explains much more about this cause of stage fright.
Initially it may take you some time to recognise that you have a phobia. You might mistakenly put it down to excessive shyness. But then the panic starts to occur more frequently and consistently and a pattern emerges. The response is reinforced each time it happens and you panic, and each time this happens it strengthens your resolve to avoid speaking in public or performing and feel relief. Unfortunately this is not a solution – it actually makes the cycle stronger.
The Treatment and The Cure
The main Stage Fright Away technique you’ll learn is a type of psychological acupressure. I use it all the time in my practice, and for me and my clients it is the fastest and most powerful way to optimise your emotional state.
The technique is based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments for over five thousand years, but no needles! There is a lot of scientific evidence emerging about this ancient Eastern wisdom, and the electromagnetic energy that flows through the body and regulates your emotional state (among many other things) is now fully recognised in the West.** what is stage fright