If you have ever had an anxiety or panic attack at the thought of speaking in public, then you know how an emotional hijack feels. In this post, I’d like to share why it happens and how, by learning how to manage it, you can fire your fear of public speaking and become a more confident communicator.
What is Emotional Hijack?
It’s what happens when you perceive something as a danger, and you react instinctively without thinking. Emotional Hijack is controlled by a tiny structure deep in your brain called the Amygdala. When your brain detects a change in the world around you (a stimulus), it instantly compares that change with your past experiences to judge if it is likely to be dangerous or not. If the message comes back “threat”, your amygdala releases a potent cocktail of chemicals which bypass our rational brain(neocortex). These chemicals include Adrenaline and Cortisol, which trigger a flight, flight or freeze response depending on the type of danger perceived.
Emotional Hijack and Public Speaking Anxiety
Many people like you find speaking in public scary, so it’s not surprising when the brain sees it as a danger and instantly triggers an emotional hijack episode. The results include freezing, mind blanking, hyperventilation, flushing, rapid rate, a wish to flee or any combination of the above. Learning how to be a more confident speaker includes understanding how to manage or prevent emotional hijack.
Preventing Emotional Hijack – Resetting your Trigger Point
Emotional hijack happens so quickly that our ‘rational brain’ has no time to objectively weigh up the dangers versus the benefits.The speed of this “intuitive response” makes prevention difficult when we perceive public speaking as ‘dangerous or threatening’. This perception can be changed, but it takes a little time and practice. However, if you can’t overcome the first panic how will you ever learn to enjoy speaking in public?
The solution is to learn to manage the emotional hijack but becoming more aware of what is going on inside you. Sometimes, called “Mindfulness”, this ability to disengage from your mental chatter and focus, is a learnable skill that takes a little practice and brings enormous benefits to all areas of your life. I don’t have time to go into this in detail here but there are lots of posts and mobile apps to help you do it. My particular favourite is Headspace https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app
Managing emotional hijack when it happens
If you do suffer from emotional hijack, then here are some practical things you can do to regain control.
Changing your physiology is one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your state. Go for a walk, stand up and stretch, jog on the spot for a few seconds or find somewhere to dance. (A colleague of mine recommends the disabled toilet!)
Music can change our emotional state in a heartbeat. Find a song that uplifts or makes you smile and that you know at least a few of the words, and then find somewhere to sing along to it, either aloud or silently in your head.Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves is one of my favourites :-).
- Ask yourself some questions
As soon as your rational mind has re-engaged,focusit’s power by asking yourself the following questions
- What am I thinking?
“I am thinking that the presentation will be a disaster”
- What am I feeling?
” Fear, panic, anxiety”
- What do I want?
“I want to be able to engage my audience and communicate my messages clearly”
- How am I getting in my own way?
“Maybe I am being too self-critical? I may not be a perfect speaker, but I have heard worse”
- What do I need to do differently?
“I need to breathe, slow down a little and remember why my message is important to me and my audience”
- What am I thinking?
Are you ready to fire your fear of public speaking?
If so please experiment with these ideas and let me know how you get on. It’s easy! Just post a comment below!
I was inspired to write this post after listening to a wonderful presentation entitled “It’s all in the mind” by Karen Murray, of Oak Growth Consultancy Ltd.