October 20, 2009

Don't panic, plan it



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In my vast experience with panic attacks, I've learned to use various tools to help me through the intensity of the situation, some of which I shared in the linked blog post.

But something that is equally important to mention is how to prepare and take care of yourself so you face fewer of these attacks in the first place. You may not even experience full-fledged panic, but you can still prepare yourself so you don't put yourself in situations that trigger anxiety. These tricks have worked for me; maybe they'll work for you!

1. Get enough sleep


When you're tired, it's easy to overload your circuits. When you're tired, it's harder for your mind and body to handle difficult situations. If you have a presentation coming up, especially, make sure you get a good night's sleep for a few nights leading up to it.

People are shocked when I tell them what time I get up in the morning (no, it's not 5:30 a.m.), but this is what works for me and what makes me feel the most rested. You know when you're not getting enough sleep and, in fact, you may be chronically sleep-deprived. Not a good habit to get into, either for speaking or for your life in general.

2. Eat healthy food and stay hydrated

Your body needs fuel for energy. How do you expect to get up in front of a large group and give your all for an hour or more when all you've had to eat was a cup of tea and a piece of toast?

Make sure that you are well hydrated and have eaten enough actual nutrients (only you can know what works for you, but let me just say that junk food doesn't have much in the way of nutrients), so your brain doesn't stop working and you don't pass out at the end of your talk.

3. Avoid aggravating triggers

I don't mean panic triggers here. What I mean is, avoid the things that you know will upset or aggravate your system in some way. It might be some food that doesn't agree with you, or cigarette smoke that aggravates your asthma or allergies. For me, it's caffeine, particularly coffee.

When I'm at a conference, I tend to drink coffee because that's what's available, preferably decaf. But I have to be really careful not to drink coffee before a presentation because 1) it makes me incredibly hyper - more so than I already am, 2) the acidity upsets my stomach, and 3) I would have to run out of the room three times to use the restroom. If I were anxious about speaking, drinking coffee would exacerbate my anxiety tenfold.

4. Know what you're getting into


In this post, I wrote about preparing for the things that you fear, like losing your place or the audience noticing your nervousness. And it's always good to know how you would handle these kinds of situations.

However, it's also important to take your own physical and mental health and comfort into account during your presentation.

For example (speaking of food again...) if I know I'm going to be in a training for several hours, I bring snacks to eat in the breaks. If I don't, I will become hungry, then weak, then lightheaded. I know myself.

If you have a hard time speaking for long periods of time, break up the presentation so your audience does some of the work for you in small groups. If your feet hurt when you wear heels, don't wear heels, or invest the time and money in comfortable ones. If you're always hot or cold, check the room in advance to make sure you're dressed appropriately for the temperature.

There's so much to think about when preparing for your presentation, but your mental and physical health and comfort are just as important as the presentation itself. Take care of yourself and the rest will come much easier.

How do you care for yourself before presentations? Share in the comments!

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