Stage Fright Answers

How can I approach anxiety, negative thinking and the circus in my head. How can I focus on genuine intention?

Hi John, It's great you're reaching out for some help. I can't say for sure what's causing your anxiety based on your message alone, but I can give you some ideas of how your challenge would be approached from a Cognitive Behavioral perspective. 1. Because our thinking influences our feelings and behaviors, we have formed beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us based on how we have interpreted our past experiences. You may have some beliefs about yourself (and/or women) that contribute to your anxiety. That anxiety in turn seems to be contributing to you have racing thoughts that make having the conversations with women seem overwhelming. By identifying what those underlying beliefs are and gaining a little insight into where they come from, you can start to replace irrational thinking with more adaptive ways of thinking. By doing so, you'd decrease your anxiety and feel more confident with these situations. 2. Coping skills are also huge. There are so many that can help with anxiety, and the key is to try several of them, see what works for you, and then practice them so that using them becomes automatic when faced with anxiety-producing situations. For example, deep breathing (breathing in through your nose for five seconds and out of your mouth for seven seconds) can be a great quick way to reduce anxiety. Pleasant imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness and grounding techniques, and many distraction activities like counting backwards can all help. 3. In addition to the immediate strategies to reduce anxiety, preventative measures could involve improving your self-esteem. Recognizing your strengths (and allowing other people to help you recognize your strengths) could improve self-esteem and thus reduce anxiety in these situations.  4. Cognitive behavioral therapy often involves role playing, and role playing stressful situations can help someone to prepare for situations that they know will produce anxiety. By practicing how you will approach a conversation with a woman, that preparation may help you to feel more confident once in that conversation.  5. Writing down your thoughts as they occur is another strategy. You described a "circus in your head" and sometimes it can be useful just to break down what's going on. Being able to look at those thoughts on paper or on a computer can also help us to more objectively evaluate them. Anyway, those are some ideas of how a Cognitive Behavioral therapist may approach your challenge. I hope that you'll consider participating in therapy. What you're describing is very common and can absolutely be worked on if you're open to doing so. I hope you have a nice rest of your weekend, and take care. Nicholas DeFazio, MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC
(MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC)
Answered on 11/06/2022

How do I overcome the fear of public speaking?

Hey Sunny,   Thank you so much for your question.   You might be familiar with a lot of this already, but I sometimes find it useful to consider the different roles that distinct areas of the body tend to play when it comes to external stimulus. The prefrontal cortex part of the brain for example, is responsible for regulating our emotions as well as allowing us to solve problems in a pragmatic and controlled manner. During moments of anxiety, a much more ancient part of the brain known as the limbic system, or paleomammalian cortex, takes the steering wheel and those aforementioned areas of the prefrontal cortex are relegated to the passenger seat. Furthermore, the limbic system might put on its own playlist and then turn up the volume on the stereo to drown out the prefrontal cortex’s boring suggestions. After all, nobody likes a back seat driver.   The amygdala, a key asset of the limbic system, is one of the few parts of the brain and the nervous system that is fully formed when we are born, whilst key parts of the prefrontal cortex are thought to take around 30 years to fully mature. I think this speaks volumes about our tendency to react in certain ways to unpleasant situations. One of the primary functions of the limbic system is essentially to identify threats and tell us to respond in a way that is designed to keep us safe. We might dissociate, get the heck out of there, or become aggravated to meet the challenge. Upon registering a threat, parts of the limbic system such as the hippocampus may remind us that we’ve seen this kind of situation before and perhaps that it didn’t end well. A chain of events may then occur within the body. A cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones may prepare us for action, and we might find that our heart rate and respiration rate increases, that we perspire more, we may need the toilet as oxygenated blood is moved from the digestive system to our limbs, and we may even experience tunnel vision, become irritable and become more attuned to details such as sound. In more severe cases, this experience can produce a visceral experience known as a panic attack.   Challenging anxious or intrusive thoughts is perhaps a little easier when we are able to engage the prefrontal cortex. This is because the same parts of the brain responsible for things like task initiation, organization and working memory are also the same tools that we use for functions such as self-monitoring, emotional regulation, and impulse control. There are a number of ways that you can do this, and it is possible to strengthen connectivity within the prefrontal cortex with exercises that target specific functions of your brain such as word and memory games, or puzzles. These exercises can encourage neuroplasticity and reinforce essential neurological interconnections. You might also try learning something new, like a language, or other skill. This is even more effective than word games at engaging and exercising the prefrontal cortex, as it requires those parts of the brain to adapt so that it may understand and piece together new information. Cooking is an activity that engages multiple areas of your brain, including various senses, making it a great grounding activity with a lot of sensory stimulus that can anchor you to the here and now. Cooking requires hand-eye coordination, concentration, multitasking, planning, and working memory to execute a recipe correctly, all of which are executive functions of the prefrontal cortex.   I get however that you can't whip up a recipe when delivering a presentation (unless of course you're presenting a dish!), so perhaps you can try other things that require only a pen and paper to ground yourself in preparation for standing before your audience. Solving math problems with increasing difficulty, for example, can help. Math problems require the use of logic, analytical skills, and trial and error to arrive at correct conclusions. They may also be more in line with the kind of skills you are trying to use when you're feeling that pressure in a work environment, for example.   All the while, control your breathing. It doesn't have to be in a way that feels forced, and you don't have to count for however long you spend holding a breath etc. You can start by taking an inward breath through the nostrils, feeling the coolness of the air as it enters your body and fills your chest, hold it for an undetermined amount of time that feels natural and organic, and then release it through your mouth. Pursing your lips can help to slow the outward breath. You can do this at any time, and continue it whilst engaging in an activity that engages the prefrontal cortex.   If you want to work directly with the intrusive thought, then you could perhaps use that as the source material when you attempt to engage in an activity that helps. You could write the thought down, consider what assumptions you are making, ask yourself why you are making those specific assumptions, consider the evidence that supports those assumptions, ask what other assumptions could also be made based on the same evidence, and in doing so challenge the thought using Socratic methods.   Working with a therapist can be a very effective way to explore this experience in search of ways to manage those feelings. An autonomous and comfortable exploration of these experiences within the safety afforded by a professional therapeutic relationship can provide you with space to unpack what is going on for you, identify triggers and potential coping strategies, and discover meaningful ways to move forward with your personal goals. You might explore breathing exercises, grounding and mindfulness techniques, cognitive behavioural methods for challenging intrusive thoughts, and other ways to manage triggers in relation to public speaking.   Whilst unpleasant, it is perfectly natural to feel overwhelmed by the consuming, collaborative efforts of the cognitive and physiological processes that contribute to the experience of anxiety, and there is nothing unusual or erroneous or about the way that you might be feeling in these moments. Our emotions have important functions. They are an adaptive feature of our survival. Anger, dread, or any of the hues that form a particular shade in our rich emotional palette are a product of our body and mind doing their job, albeit a little too well on occasions perhaps. Those emotions can provide incredibly useful data which we may employ in our pursuit for personal growth. They can sign post things for us, validate us when we’ve experienced something distressing, and motivate action.   So, what does that fear around public speaking mean for you?   If you sit with those feelings and let them guide you, where do they lead?   What do you feel is driving that fear?   Have you felt this way before in other situations?   Does it bring back particular memories?   Do you experience any intrusive thoughts when you think about public speaking, or visualize a ‘worst case’ scenario?     Good luck, and I hope you find all of the answers that you are looking for.
(Level, 6, Therapeutic, Counselling, (BA), Level, 5, Counselling, (FdA), Level, 4, Counselling, (FdA))
Answered on 11/04/2022

How can I combat social anxiety in certain situations?

Hi, thank you for your question. Sometimes we can find it difficult to share about ourselves, when feeling shy this can link to how we where at a younger age.  A way to help share more about yourself is to ask others questions first then slowly open the door. Explore your personality, express who you're as a person. Talk about what you love, your hobbies, passions your wants/desires in life.  When you was growing up did you struggle speaking with people/make friend's? When we grow up not having the social norms around meeting people and speaking about ourselves this can stunt us later in life.  Do you feel rejection when sharing who you are? This can be from parents not giving us attachment that we crave and allowing ourselves to grow. Practice being vulnerable with the people that know you best, explore who you want to be when around people. Ask the question: "Is this really me? When speaking with other people, am I wearing a mask so people don't see the real me?" It sounds like there is an element of anxiety that is coming in when you're trying to connect with others, this anxiety can be reduced when we explore mindfulness techniques such as:  Listen. Name one thing that you hear when you listen with your ears. Look. Name one thing that catches your attention when you look around. Smell. Name a scent that you notice when you take a sniff with your nose. Touch. Name an object that you enjoy feeling with your hands.   Or basic breathing: Basic breathing is simple, straightforward meditation that uses the breath to settle the mind. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Observe your breath on the inhalation. Observe your breath on the exhalation. When the mind wanders, gently bring it back to focusing on your breath.   Basic mindfulness can help calm us down and give us a chance to slow down, to the point where when we go into social interactions, we can speak slowly and look at what we want to share. Whenever you're in a conversation, it's up to you what you share and how far you take the conversation with that information.  Thank you for taking the first step in seeking help. I would encourage seeking out further help to this issue as it may be a simple fix over what we think is a complicated one.
Answered on 10/25/2022

How to you get into dating when I'm so nervous and anxious I can bearly hold eye contact with a girl

Hello Geoff, thank you for asking this question, it shows a lot that you are willing to go out of your way, and probably outside of your comfort zone, to ask for help. You may receive some different opinions on this topic, but I believe the goal of being able to meet someone new and / or go on successful dates with women, would be best addressed by slowing down and working on the anxiety itself, first. If you are going to enter your car into a race, you probably want to start by making sure the tires are full of air, and the engine is in good shape. You indicated that you have never been evaluated for social anxiety, and it may be time to actually see a professional counselor for this. Of course, simply being evaluated probably will not resolve your issue, but seeing a professional therapist regularly, who can help you explore the roots of your anxiety, and help you develop healthy means of managing anxiety when it is present, and eliminating the effects of anxiety in some situations, would probably do you a world of good, not just in terms of the dating world, but in terms of life in general.  When it comes to achieving major life goals, something a therapist would likely work with you on is something called SMART goals. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. If there is a goal that feels so out of reach it is causing you distress, no person alive is likely to all of a sudden be able to achieve it one day without working towards it in some way. It is best to start small. Setting small SMART goals that help you eventually build toward the goal of successfully dating, will help you pinpoint various barriers and stressors you are currently facing, and help you overcome them slowly, to build your confidence towards the actual thing. You did not mention if you are happy with your overall social life outside of the dating world, but if your friend group is lacking as well, perhaps a small and reasonable short-term goal could be just to go out and have a conversation with a stranger, with zero added expectations. That is one example of what I mean by starting small. Therapy should not offer you any kinds of "tricks for dating," or anything like that, but I don't think that's what you're looking for anyhow. Therapy will help you address and resolve your anxieties so that this and other goals come more easily to you. I hope you are encouraged to work on yourself, and I hope this has been helpful! 
(LMHC)
Answered on 05/12/2022

How do I stop overthinking?

Dear NG,   Thank you for your message and sharing.   I understand how difficult it is to try stopping your thoughts. I could imagine how hard you have been trying and how frustrating to feel that nothing is working.    We can't stop our thoughts, but the more we practice being mindful of the present, the better we can catch ourselves with our thoughts and develop an alternative response to them, and learn to let go.   During moments like this I remind myself the teachings regarding worries, it is consisted with a 2 part questions:   1. Is this problem within my control? If so, then this problem will be solved given time and the right intervention. 2. Would worrying about it make any difference? If not, then is it worth it to sacrifice our time and mental health worrying over something that (1. can't be solved anyway / 2. will be solved anyway)?   This is definitely easier said than done, therefore as a fellow human being, I am working with you to pay attention to what is good, what is kind rather than our worries.   Obsessive or consuming thoughts can make living miserable when you are plagued by them, but this very situation can become the invitation to transcend mind and be free of suffering forever.   Can you stop obsessive thoughts? - If you could, it would be great, but the truth is that it's slightly more complicated than just suppressing your thoughts which at-most you can do for a few seconds. Plus suppressing thoughts is even worse than enduring thoughts. It builds up a lot of negative energy inside.   So how to stop these stops thoughts? The secret to stopping these thoughts is to detach from the mind because You cannot fight mind with the mind. Let's look at this in more detail.   What Causes Obsessive Thoughts?   If you generated the thoughts, you could've controlled them too.   The truth is that you don't generate thoughts, the mind does. And the mind is on auto-mode most of the time.   You can see this for yourself; can you predict what you will think 30 seconds from now? If you can't how can you assume that you are generating the thoughts?   If you believe that you are your mind, that's a false notion again.   If you are your mind then how can you observe the thoughts? So you must be separate from the mind to see what the mind is doing.   The mind generates thoughts, which are mostly just energy forms. These thoughts pass through like clouds. We identify with some of these thoughts and obsess over them.   So in truth, all thoughts are just neutral energy forms; it's your interest or association with the thoughts that makes them obsessive. If you can understand this truth, you have taken the first step towards getting rid of obsessive thoughts.   How to Stop Obsessive Negative Thoughts?   If you are asking this question, ask yourself another question - "is this question not another thought? It's a thought about killing thoughts".   All your attempts at suppressing and stopping thoughts fail because you are using the mind to stop the mind. The police man and thief are both the mind; so how can the police man catch the thief?   So you cannot kill the mind by force. The mind dies its own death by the poison of disassociation.   What gives power to a thought? - Your interest. If you have no interest in a particular thought then it loses its hold over you.   You can try this out now. Let the thoughts flow through your mind but don't take interest in them. Just stay as a bystander or a watcher and let the thoughts float.   Initially you might have a hard time watching thoughts because of your inherent habit of associating with each thought that arises.   It helps to know that you are not your thoughts, that thoughts are just energy forms created in the mind. Why does the mind create thoughts? No one knows - it's just something it does, why bother. Do you ever ask why does the heart beat?   With a little practice you will get really good at watching thoughts and not involving yourself with them.   You will stop giving power to thoughts by not giving them your interest. Thoughts die immediately when they are deprived of this fuel of interest. If you don't associate with the thought or give power to the thought, it will wither away quickly.   What Are Thoughts?   Past events get stored as memories. Your mind conditioning and beliefs are also stored as memories. All this is unconscious storage; the mind does all this in auto mode.   Perceptions and interpretations are created in the mind based on its past "external" conditioning and also its natural conditioning (genetics). These interpretations, perceptions and judgments come up as thoughts in the mind, and they can be positive or negative depending on the mind's conditioning.   Thoughts are generated based on the past incidents/memories, future projections and interpretations on the present life situation. It's like a computer trying to predict or conjure up projection based on the data it has collected so far.   When thoughts are negative in nature (thoughts of worry, anxiety, stress, lack, resentment, guilt etc.) they produce resistance to the movement of your life, and this resistance is felt as suffering. Negative thoughts will always stand in resistance to the movement of your life, like blocks of stone in the midst of a swift current of water.   Life is a stream of pure positive energy and hence any negative thought will stand in opposition to it, causing friction which is felt as suffering in the body.   The thoughts in your mind gain power from your attention and interest. Your attention is the fuel for your mind. So when you give attention to consuming thoughts in the mind, you are unconsciously fueling it and thus attracting more momentum for these negative thoughts.   The momentum of negative thoughts in your mind will slow down, and ebb away, automatically when you stop feeding your attention to it. Stay as an open space of awareness without focusing your attention on the negative thoughts of the mind, and soon they will lose their momentum.   You can focus on the positive thoughts generated in the mind, and thus develop a positive momentum in your mind. Every time your mind produces some positive thoughts, e.g thoughts of love, joy, excitement, abundance, beauty, appreciation, passion, peace etc, focus on it, milk it, and give attention to it.   This will cause your mind to attract more positive thoughts and thus build a positive momentum.   Whenever the mind thinks negatively, don't give it attention or interest, this will cause the ebbing away of the momentum of negative thinking. It's really that simple. Once you understand the mechanics of how thoughts gain momentum in the mind, you will be in total control of your state of being.   The Practice of Watching the Mind   All you need to do to get rid of obsessive thoughts is to watch the mind without getting involved.   You will get really good at this with just a little practice. This practice, or "sadhana" as called in Hindu scriptures, is the root of awakening from the illusion of mind.   Without trying to understand this practice just implement it. The more you try to understand the more mind gets involved. Just watch the mind and you will soon see that you are not the mind at all.   That the mind is like a machine in your head that generates thoughts based on your attention/interest. Be free of your mind by depriving it of your interest. This is the only direct path of becoming free of the mind.   Please let me know if this is helpful, looking forward to talking with you more :) Jono
(MSW, LICSW, LMHC)
Answered on 09/29/2021