C = Calm Yourself! the C in C.O.N.C.E.A.L. Speech Anxiety

Speech anxiety symptoms are powerful and can be overwhelming. I believe everyone can learn strategies to calm these feelings.  Over 3-decades teaching public speaking, I developed 7-quickly applied tips using the acronym C.O.N.C.E.A.L. to manage speech fear or speech anxiety.   We’re on number four and the second C of C.O.N.C.E.A.L. about ways to calm anxiety.

I). Managing your breathing is the first major approach to calm oneself during an anxious state. During speech anxiety, the Flight-Fight Syndrome causes a heightened racing breathing rate. This natural physiological reaction requires oxygenated blood to be delivered throughout your body, increasing your breathing rate. Consciously managing your breathing rate will minimize stressed feelings and symptom visibility, particularly these three visible side-effects:

  • A vocal quiver or shaking sound.
  • Lightheadedness caused by hyperventilation.
  • Talking too fast. Many people deliver the content too fast, speaking a full-sentence on a single breath without taking natural pauses until the next breath forces a pause.

Deep breathing, also called “diaphragm breathing”, is a technique that helps you slow down your breathing when feeling stressed or anxious. Newborn babies naturally breathe this way, and singers, wind instrument players, and yoga practitioners learn this type of breathing. You can learn it too in order to manage your speech anxiety.

Common incorrect breathing forms associated with anxiety are outlined by Calm Clinic (https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/treatment/breathing-exercises):

  • Shallow Breathing—breathing in too quickly.
  • Monitored Breathing—thinking about your breathing too much.
  • Over-breathing—breathing in more air because you feel you’re not getting enough.

Poor breathing habits can lead to a variety of issues, the most common of which is hyperventilation and a resulting lightheaded feeling reported by many anxious speakers.

Deep breathing exercises provided by WebMD (https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques#1) include:

  • Breathe in through your nose. Let your belly fill with air.
  • Breathe out through your nose.
  • Place a hand on your belly. Place the other hand on your chest.
  • As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the one that’s on your chest.
  • Take three additional full, deep breaths. Breathe fully into your belly as it rises and falls with your breath.

I recommend counting to help you pace breathing similarly to your calm state. While calm, count how long it takes to release a slow breath.  It is often 6-8 seconds.  When stressed, take a deep breath and begin speaking while controlling the release of your breaths to that same count until your speech anxiety calms.

II). Visualization has long been used by athletes to focus their attention on desired outcomes in the mind first.  Athletes visualize the throw being caught, the ball entering the cup, the game being won and audience cheers, etc. You as a speaker can visualize yourself on stage, wowing the audience, and seeing them as positive, accepting and receptive.  You can also create calming visualizations to reduce anxiety. These images involve creating a detailed peaceful mental picture, such as a beautiful scene like a nice lake, sunset or waterfall, etc. 

III). Self-talk or positive affirmation is the practice of positive talk. You could write out helpful comments about the speech or the outcome, such as “I can do this! The audience will love me! This will be fun!  I will be great!  If you are religious, your affirmations could include scriptures or meaningful messages. As another example, I found free relaxation scripts at https://www.innerhealthstudio.com/relaxation-scripts.html.  A brief excerpt: “I am feeling anxious right now, but I am okay. This feeling will pass, and no harm will come to me. I am safe, even though I feel frightened.” Your own created self-talk scripts can be powerful and calming because you wrote the words most helpful to you.

IV). Yoga is well known to help you relax and quiet the nerves and mind. The positive anxiety-reducing effects of yoga have been well documented.  For seven calming yoga breathing exercises (i.e., Lions Breath, Breath of Fire, etc.) see https://www.doyouyoga.com/the-7-best-yoga-breathing-exercises-both-on-and-off-your-mat/

In conclusion, breathing control, visualizations, self-talk and positive affirmations are all ways to help you gain calming control over the strong feelings speech anxiety invokes. In the next article we will review the E, number 5 of 7- C.O.N.C.E.A.L. series.  Please write and let me know how this information is helping you!

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