Acute anxiety help

16 ways to manage public speaking fear

Wolcott's Instant Pain Anihilator - an 1863 remedy for the demons of many ills including weak nerves.

You may have thoroughly prepared your speech BUT now that delivering it is close, your confidence flees and doubts run rampant. You doubt whether you can make it to the venue. Even if you did, you know you wouldn't be able to do anything. You're sure you're going to let everybody down. If there was a bottle of Wolcott's Instant Pain Annihilator* handy you'd swallow it.

I know how extreme public speaking anxiety feels. I've been there too. And survived.

You will too. Take action to manage it now. Read the tips below, select what makes best sense for you here and now and, do it.

Especially for children

If you're reading this page on behalf of a child, you'll find suggestions for adapting the 16 tips nearer the end. Scroll down to find them. It is worth your while as I know they work!

*The ad dates from approx 1863. The demons of various maladies including weak nerves in the top image are banished in record time by a slurp or two of this magical formula. More about the ad here.

1. Breathe

This sounds too simple to be effective, doesn't it? But it works.

When we're extremely anxious we tend to either hold our breath or breathe very shallowly off the top of our lungs. The result is we prolong and heighten the physical discomfort brought on by acute anxiety. Short circuit that now.

Stand up*. Place your feet a shoulder width apart and put one hand on your belly.

To begin breathe out through your mouth, expelling all the air from your lungs.

Then breathe in deeply, through your nose, using your diaphragm. As you do imagine the breath coming in through the soles of your feet and traveling all the way up your body to the very top of your head while slowly counting to four.

Hold the breath for a moment before releasing, again to the count of four.

On the out-breath, imagine all the negativity and anxiety draining away from your body. Feel it leaving from the top of your head down to your toes.

Repeat the in and out breath to the count of four at least four times.

When you've finished shake your arms, wriggle your shoulders and let the feeling of ease settle in.

For a variation try increasing the count to five or six. Closing your eyes may help you focus better too.

Color swatch for paint

As an extension 'color' your breath in your imagination.

Choose a color to invigorate and cleanse you and feel it flowing through every cell in your body on your in-breath count.

Choose another color to carry away all the negative energy on your out-breath.

NB. You'll know when you're doing this correctly because the hand you've placed on your stomach will rise and fall with your in and out breaths. If it doesn't move, try breathing more deeply until it does.

* If circumstances prevent you from standing, do the exercise sitting. Be sure to sit 'square' in your seat. Uncross your legs. Place your feet on the floor, straighten your back and let your arms rest comfortably in your lap.

You'll find extensions to these breathing exercises here.

2. Reality check

In the midst of what you feel is a crisis irrational fears may take over. Often they are quite without foundation. They live in a murky underworld and can not survive in the clear light of factual truth.

Take a moment to ask your sensible self, (not the part of you behaving like a very frightened child), some searching questions and LISTEN to the real or rational answers.

  1. Are you mistaking the ordinary adrenalin rush of excitement for fear?

    It happens because the symptoms are similar - heightened sensitivity, butterflies in the stomach, increased heart rate ...
  2. Have you prepared carefully?
  3. Have you 'survived' this type of feeling before?

If you have confused excitement for fear and answered YES to the last questions do a deep breathing round and let the irrational thoughts and feelings go!

3. Resist using alcohol

Alcohol is not your friend in this situation. It may quell your nerves but it is far from being a help as it will also dull your ability to respond quickly and appropriately. Save the glass of wine for later!

4. Use imagination positively

In your mind put together a slide show - huge multi-colored vibrant pictures of yourself doing well.

See yourself at ease. See yourself performing beautifully. Make the images as detailed as possible. Add sound, smell, feel ... Use all your senses to create an outstanding movie in your mind featuring yourself.

See yourself before the performance, poised and alert. See yourself during it, responding to the challenge and see yourself afterward, reflecting on a task done well.

Play that slide show whenever you feel anxiety beginning to tighten its grip.

5. Ask a NON-indulgent but understanding friend to be your support

Sometimes we get so knotted up inside having someone who cares for and understands us alongside is a great help.

Tell them their chief task is to keep you on track. They may understand your anxiety but they are not to heighten it by playing into it.

They are there to remind you to breathe, to see yourself as successful and be of practical assistance. Their first job is to banish anybody adding to your stress unnecessarily.

6. Eat lightly

Heavy food in a delicate stomach makes you feel even more stressed. Eat light foods or if you can't eat anything, take a nourishing drink, like a banana smoothie. (In fact, bananas have been found to contain natural beta blockers which minimize symptoms of anxiety.)

7. Be in the moment

When you are 'in the moment' your mind is not racing ahead filling itself with all sorts of concerns about what might or could happen. Instead you are focused on what it is you are doing now and carrying out that activity to the very best of your ability. This makes you alert and responsive. To help you stay in the 'now' practice breathing fully. Use the rhythm of good breath control to anchor you there.

8. Success recall

One of the best antidotes to anxiety is to remember previous occasions when you felt, and were successful.

The more vividly you can recall those times the more effective they are.    The situation doesn't have to be the same as the one you are preparing to meet now. The most important aspect of this exercise is experiencing yourself as a success and remembering in as much detail as you can how that felt.

If you have time prepare yourself a 'brag' list on a small card. Put on it your most significant personal triumphs. Now put the list in your pocket. When you feel 'wobbly' you can slip you hand in to feel and remind yourself of them.

Being acutely anxious is all consuming and we let our past successes slide from memory. A touchable reminder brings them back, helping restore balance and perspective.

9. Seek professional assistance

See your doctor to discuss symptoms and solutions. You will know when the situation has gone beyond self-manageable limits. Don't be too proud or frightened to make the call. There are many, many people who can not solve this on their own. Ask rather than suffer in silence.

Be aware that although there are drugs which will lessen the intensity of your experience, taking them is a short term solution. However, if it's an emergency this could be just what you need to get you through your present situation.

The doctor will also advise whether your discomfort is the result of physical illness rather than extreme anxiety. I know from experience when you're in the midst of an attack sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

 10. Try natural remedies

There are many available either through a regular drug store or specialist natural health outlets.

One of the most commonly used is Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy. It contains a mix of five different flower essences and is especially formulated to combat the effects of extreme stress. I always had a bottle on hand for students suffering first night nerves.

Other common natural calming aids are special aromatherapy mixtures (which generally include lavender) and herbal teas. Varying mineral and vitamin supplements (for instance magnesium) may help as well.

Ask for assistance from a suitably qualified person to help you get what is most appropriate for you.

11. Hypnosis

Hypnosis is an absolutely natural process allowing you to counter the controlling negative thoughts often underpinning full blown anxiety.

Although the media often highlights hypnotists as entertainers making people behave outrageously that is not how a qualified trained therapeutic hypnotherapist works! They do not rob you of your will but work with it. These people are not show men. They are there to help you take back your life and live it as you want to.

Check for registered hypnotherapists near you. Sometimes one or two sessions is all it takes to reverse crippling mental habits. I've found it very useful.

12. NLP techniques & training

The following is an excerpt from an interview I did with Jonathan Altfeld NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner who specializes in teaching public speaking presentation skills.

"NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) is the study of patterns of excellence -  in behavior, cognition, and language. Over time, this has resulted in an ever-growing collection of success strategies, coaching methods, and accelerated learning systems, that is sweeping the world. As a result, NLP can be used to learn almost anything, better, more thoroughly, and faster - than many other approaches offer."

Jonathan says, "In my 5-day speaker's training, I literally only spend about 4 hours on the first day getting people past their fears/concerns. That's all I ever need  - all they ever need. Because their fears are gone very early on."

Click the link to read more about how Jonathan uses this extremely powerful method of overcoming public speaking fear in his presentation skill training.

13. Get a massage

If you have the time make an appointment with a qualified massage practitioner.

There are varying types of massage available all of which work to release tension stored in the body. Discuss what you need when you make the appointment. The practitioner will advise what will be beneficial.

14. Re-check your planning

Go through the 'little' details as these can be the things which in the end cause the most stress, simply because they are overlooked.

How are your getting to the venue? What do you have to take?

Prepare everything well ahead of time so you arrive with nothing to do but speak. There's a useful checklist here. It's number 5 on the page.

15. Play soothing music

Baroque music is known for its calming effect. Its patterning actually alters the brain waves making them clearer and more ordered. Get some Bach or Vivaldi on your music machine. You can find out more about it here.

16. Congratulate yourself

You're here reading this page. That means you're actively looking for solutions and that takes courage.

It also takes courage to put yourself out as a performer of any sort in the first place. So you are a doubly courageous person, the sort who will source the action they need and take it.

Don't wait. Hoping it will go away doesn't help either. Waiting and hoping add to your anxiety and out of control feelings. Use the time you have positively. Chose a tip and use it now!

Adapting these tips for children

If you're reading this Acute Anxiety Help page on behalf of a child, you'll find many of the suggestions useful. They adapt well across age groups and children will respond very quickly if given clear instruction and support.


I suggest using the breathing exercises first. Teach, and do them with them. Help them into a pattern of using them daily. I've taught these for dealing with examination nerves as well as first-night play or speech jitters. I know they work. Try them.


The Bach Flowers 'Rescue Remedy', especially formulated for acute anxiety, is a good one too. It's easily given and has no nasty side effects.


Help the child through all the organizational steps:

  • Have they got their notes?
  • Do they know the right time of the speech/play/exam?
  • How are they getting to the venue?
  • What else do they need to take?


Avoid escalating their panic
if that's what they're doing. Your distress will feed theirs. Keep calm, even if it's only outwardly and do some of the exercises for yourself.


Go through the positive visualization exercises with them. Help to recall instances of success and build on them.


Banish un-helpful hysterical friends
who want to magnify the situation.


If you can, and if it helps, station yourself where they can see you from their position at the venue. Have a 'remember to breathe' signal worked out, so you can unobtrusively remind them if you see them getting tight.


Above all, put whatever they are doing in perspective for them.
How critical is this event on a scale of 1-10? Ten is total disaster. What will happen if the worst occurs? What will happen if the best occurs? Getting their response in proportion to the event's real importance helps control it.






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