Fight Or Flight

You can thank the fight or flight response an ancient survival mechanism for any physical manifestations of anxiety you experience. Regardless of their intensity - from mild to extreme - all of them are "normal" reactions to either real or perceived danger.

Many years ago when our ancestors lived in caves their continued existence was utterly dependent on how well they read and responded to danger. Those methods for recognition and response to threat were literally hot-wired into their systems. They have been passed down through generation after generation and underpin the reactions to danger we experience today. The fight or flight response is automatic and by passes the rational or conscious mind. We do not consciously choose to feel threatened or suffer anxiety. It is an instinctive response happening unconsciously of its own accord.

The fight or flight response has no mind: What is important to remember about our fight or flight response, is that it doesn’t have a mind. It is NOT a rational reaction. We do not select the circumstances triggering it into action. It works regardless of the type of threat. In other words it is activated whether the threat is perceived, (only in our minds), or real.

When you perceive a situation as dangerous certain physiological processes kick in instantly to help you escape that danger. That's the well known "fight or flight" response. In terms of public speaking with anxiety, the body releases a pair of stress hormones to help, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline prepares the body to fight the threat or to flee (if the danger is too great to fight); whilst cortisol assists in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats—in other words to get you activated.

When the body experiences high levels of these hormones or undergoes long-term exposure to them the effect is harmful rather than helpful. Even in the short-term if the body's response to public speaking fear is strong enough, we experience the uncomfortable sensations of stage fright: shortness of breath, sweating, rapid heart rate, nausea, feeling hot or flushed, a shaky voice, etc.

Obviously, a strong physiological response like that can't be countered by thoughts alone. Diaphragmatic breathing, biofeedback, embodied cognition (moving to aid thinking), and physical exercise are all body centered ways you can control and even overcome speaking fear. When you get your body into the act in these ways, you'll feel more in control and more purposeful as a speaker. As a result, your confidence should grow. You'll be using your awareness of your body, and the "exercise" of it, to reduce your anxiety about public speaking while becoming a more dynamic practitioner of the art.

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