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Fear of Public Speaking is not our Fault

04.09/2017

Why do we get nervous about speaking in front of others?

 

If you find that you get shy, nervous or anxious at just the thought of speaking in front of others, then you are not alone. This is a common fear amongst many people. It can happen whether you are old are young. 

 

For some, it can be so acute, that they will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid speaking in public. This can extend to not contributing at meetings, lack of assertion and interpersonal difficulties. It may even mean not going for a promotion or new job. If we do get to interview then the combination of nerves and the lack of ability to articulate our ideas can mean that a potential employer has missed a trick. 

 

You may have heard of ‘Flight or Fight’ It’s a term used to describe a stress response. When this happens, we may experience sweating, difficulties concentrating, increased heart rate, tingling and a desperate need to go to the loo. While this is happening, a whole cocktail of chemical changes is happening in the body

The cause of this, is due to our stress response kicking in. We have evolved to have be on alert for threats. Our stress response system is designed for physical threat. This would have been very useful in times when we were under constant physical threat, from animals for example.

 

Today, most threats are of a psychological nature. Often the threats are to our social standing, reputation and often ego. The difficulty is that the same response is triggered for a psychological threat as a physical one. So, an increased heart rate, increase in cortisol are all really useful for preparation to run or fight. When this process kicks in when we are wishing to calmly and rationally speak to others, it can feel very distressing. 

 

The cause of this, is due to our stress response kicking in. we have evolved to have be on alert for threats. Our stress response system is designed for physical threat. This would have been very useful in times when we were under constant physical threat, from animals for example.

 

When the part of our regulatory system that is concerned with threat is activated when it’s not actually helpful. For example in a social or work situation. This is associated with high levels of right pre-frontal cortex activation. The limbic system which is the ‘emotional’ part of the brain can be hijacked. This is at the expense of our rational decision making. 

 

This means that none of this is our fault. It’s the way we are made. The good news is that there is plenty we can do to transform our experience of speaking in front of others. This is true even if you hate public speaking or are acutely shy.