Friday, September 29, 2017

Practice what I preach...

Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. So many people have it. The idea of presenting in front of a group and being the center of attention can be overwhelming, especially for people prone to anxiety. I have had symptoms of anxiety my entire life and yet speaking in front of a group is something that I find exciting and motivating.  I worked for years in a training role for a major pharmaceutical company and currently I teach classes and workshops on mental health, optimism, and resiliency as part of my clinical social work practice. Although I get a bit nervous just before a presentation, within seconds I begin to feel the positive energy of the group and find my flow.  I pride myself on the ability to handle negative and challenging audiences and can keep calm even when things go horribly wrong.  

So, if all of that is true, why did one workshop throw me into a panic last month?

It all began after finishing up a three-week class I teach several times a year for the local adult school. It is called: Get Happy: The Science Behind the Smile. The next session starts October 2017 (here’s link if you would like to join me).  Two women from the last class contacted me to see if I would put together a program with the information we covered in class, specifically to reinforce resiliency and a positive mindset in their teenage daughters. They thought that the information presented would be best received coming from an expert instead of from mom. Excited by the idea, I agreed.

Having a 13-year-old daughter, I had a pretty good idea how to create a version of my course that would be appealing to young teenagers. I could easily re-package the information with relatable stories to create an hour-long program that would fit the needs of the parents and keep the kids engaged. After creating the content and going back and forth on dates and times, we settled on a date for me to come to the home of one of the women. The plan was for her to host a party of 8th graders after school where I could present my information and lead a discussion style workshop.

After I agreed to do it and was all ready to go, I panicked. What the heck? Why was I feeling so anxious about this? My internal voice kept reminding me that I am better with adults than I am with kids. I began my career as a therapist working with children and families but after taking a 13 year detour into a corporate job, my current my current clinical therapy practice is much more focused on working with older teens and adults, especially around work/life balance stressors and triggers.  All of a sudden I felt completely unprepared for what I had signed up to do.  My negative self-talk had me feeling overwhelmed and insecure about doing something that really should be a no brainer for me.

So what did I do? I am not proud to admit it, but I tried to get out of it. I was not exactly sure why I was so fearful of doing this workshop, I just knew I wanted to bail. The mom hosting the workshop emailed to say that her daughter told her that this was going to be the lamest party ever. That was all I needed to hear, I was convinced that it was a bad idea. My 13-year-old daughter reminds me on a daily basis just how “uncool” I really am. I thought, “How could I possibly think I could do this?”

I tried to remind myself that teachers do this every single day, but that did not really help. Teachers have special gift and type of patience I don’t believe I have. As much as I love to teach, adult learning is where I thrive.

Nothing worked. I couldn’t find a way out. So there I was, sitting in someone else’s home with a room full of young teenagers whose parents paid money to have them come learn from me how to be more resilient and optimistic, when I myself was feeling overwhelmed and pessimistic. Before getting started one boy said to me, “I don’t think I want to stay, I don’t really like psychology type stuff.”  Ugh, I just kept thinking, “This is going to be a complete shit-show.”

So, I just took a deep breath and started anyway.  A few minutes in and I was shocked to see that I held their attention. Most of the teens were engaged and were began participating in the discussion. Hmmm, I thought “Maybe this would not be so bad after all.”

As I went through the material it hit me. The key points I was trying to teach these kids were the very messages I needed to tell myself at that very moment. I was not practicing what I preach. I was doing, in my own mind, exactly what I was trying to teach these kids not to do.  My panic, fear and insecurity around doing that program were in my mind, not reflective of situation.  I believed my irrational thoughts, personalization, pervasiveness, and perfectionism that had driven me into a panic. All of these were topics of this workshop.

When the obvious light bulb went off and I gained insight into the unhelpful thoughts I was having, I was able to use more adaptive thinking strategies, reframe my thoughts and adjust my perspective to allow my fear to dissipate. As I listened to the kids sharing examples of growth mindset thinking it clicked how much I was operating from a fixed mindset and sabotaging myself over irrational and unhealthy assumptions. I was stuck believing my thoughts that “I just don’t work well with kids” or “I can’t really relate to a room full of 13-year-olds.” Those beliefs weren’t based in facts or evidence but in my own maladaptive thoughts. I had to remind myself that just because I think it, does not make it true. Something I say to other people several times a day.

During the hour together, the kids shared stories of social comparisons and how those emotions have had negative affects on their self-worth.  We identified examples of situations where emotions were triggered by unhelpful and unrealistic negative thinking, labeled and reframed those negative thoughts. The kids showed insight and eagerness to understand their own triggers and even the kid who said he didn’t want to stay, shared with the group a challenging time when negative thoughts led to feeling depressed and hopeless.  

It is funny how sometimes the things we fear can become valuable lessons. In preparing to teach other people how to be more resilient and operate from a growth mindset, I really reminded myself to practice what I preach.

Thank you to the families who trusted me to teach their children, and for the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and continue to grow.

If you are interested in attending an upcoming workshop or setting one up, please reach out any time, you can contact me through my website Maximize Wellness or via