QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Depression and Anxiety

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I am a high school student. Many of our teachers want us to give reports in class. I am having trouble getting up in front of the class and speaking. I get all nervous, shake, and can't even read my notes. My mind seems to shut down, and I can't think of what I wanted to say. I don't know what to do about this.

Answer

I am glad you wrote about your anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed by nervousness before and during a speech is one of the most common forms of performance anxiety. That doesn't mean it is trivial. But sharing your secret, and getting support, is an important step in learning how to cope with these feelings.

What you are experiencing is not an emotional problem, but a very common form of painful anxiety--one related to performing in front of an audience. You identify one of the most interesting factors of this nervous reaction, that you can talk just fine when speaking from your seat. There you are just one of the class, and the sense of evaluation is usually fairly modest. But get up in front, with the spotlight on you, and you suddenly feel as though you will not only fail, but fail miserably, in front of all those people!

Help for this common response can come from many directions. Discussing your fears with friends, family, and teachers will probably give you the support of knowing just how common this form of anxiety is. You can know you are not alone.

Simple relaxation techniques can be very helpful in preventing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as shaking, blurred vision, and blushing. Breathing naturally, deeply from your lower abdomen, while suggesting to yourself that you can calm your body is helpful.

There are many good self help tapes for relaxation training. Also, self comments with your mental voice, disputing words that predict failure, that are catastrophic in their meaning, will probably help.

With exposure to this task, while using calming and clarifying suggestions, and with the support of others, you will most likely find that you feel not only more comfortable, but pleased with your performance too. But remember, performance anxiety is normal and unavoidable in anticipation of any speech. The trick is in preventing too much anxiety, which interferes with performance, while recognizing that a moderate amount of what we could term *arousal* actually can help your performance.

I hope this is helpful to you. We're all in this situation with you, and support for each other is very helpful. So thanks for giving many others the benefit of your experience.

02/21/98

Dr. Kenneth Dutro is a licensed psychologist in California. He is a member of the faculty at Humboldt State University, Arcata, California. He has been faculty member of a medical school, and worked for years as a psychologist in university-affiliated teaching hospitals.

 

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