This is this week's anti-anxiety tool...and it's also the post.
It's a new tool so there's no previous post to link to. But here's the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.
A number of years ago my boss at the time created a panel session for a major conference in our profession--and put me on it, along with herself. Thousands of people attended this annual event and since one of our panel members was a distinguished and highly-respected person in the field, I figured we might well have an audience of a thousand people. The assignment was not unprecedented--our work and research dovetailed with that of our distinguished colleague, and my boss was really good about putting me forward and giving me credit. But I was terrified.
A friend who had a lot of training in stress reduction recommended that I imagine a space behind me as large as what would be in front of me at the conference session. In that space I should include lots of warm, helpful, enthusiastic supporters. Friends, angels, animals--whatever I wanted. "I suggest you do this leading up to your presentation as well as during it," she said.
A little odd perhaps, but with the conference approaching I was getting more and more nervous, so I gave it a try. And it helped! As I imagined the huge hotel conference room, I also imagined the space behind me expanding, filling with wise and wonderful supporters. They were not cheerleaders, there was no hooting and hollering; that's just not my style. But they were solidly there, for me. I was not alone. And they smiled a lot, which helped me relax. That kind of expansion and the support at my back felt pretty new to me so it was sort of scary. But I was more balanced, with as much behind as in front. I was still kind of nervous but I felt much better.
In the end we were surprised to find that our panel had been scheduled for the last session of the last day of the conference, which meant many people would already have left. We ended up with only about 100 people attending in that huge space. But my wise and supportive crew filled my "backspace", helped me relax and saw me through the presentation with grace.
In fact, I was even able to come to the rescue of one of our panelists, who though quite experienced and very successful in his work, went in to a moderate panic when he discovered, about ten minutes before the session began that, somehow, we did not have the latest version of his talk on the panel presentation flash drive. He was adamant that he had to have the newest version; it was hard not to get swept away by his panic. He did finally find it tucked away somewhere in the cloud, emailed it to me, and I managed to get it integrated into the middle of the string of panelist presentations in the proper place--with about one minute to spare. If I had not already been working to stay calm, to lean back against my supporting crew, I might have been too nervous myself to successfully lend a hand.
I haven't had the fearsome prospect of presenting to 1,000+ people since then, but these days when I remember (which isn't often enough!) I use this technique for smaller things. I can even use it for one person, or if I am alone with my own sometimes crazy thoughts. It still feels kind of odd sometimes--we don't tend to think about about or feel our backs all that often. But imagining the expansion of calm support behind me shifts my energy away from anxiety and towards...ahhhhhhh.
And "behind my back"? It has a whole different meaning for me now.
Until next time,
Woman speaking to large group, Haykirdi, Getty Images
Women on steps ("the crew"), Joel Muniz, unSplash
Smiling kids ("the crew"), Akshar Dave, unSplash
Sunrise and trees, Simon Wilkins, unSplash