by Zara Mohammed, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 24th January, 2020
For some of us communicating with other people feels like a terrifying and incredibly risky activity.
When we, who suffer from communication apprehension, have to communicate with people in different social situations, from dating to job interviews, we risk being evaluated and inevitably judged by other people.
This can make us feel horribly uncomfortable. We feel vulnerable because our self-image is at stake.
By the end of reading this article you will have a clear understanding of what people who go through this kind of anxiety experience.
If you are the sufferer, then keep reading through to the end of the article where we will finish off with some ways to manage your communication apprehension.
Communication Apprehension essentially refers to the fear or anxiety a person experiences when anticipating communication, or during communication with another person or people.
It is a psychological response to evaluation that very quickly becomes physical as the mind perceives a threat and the body responds to that threat.
One of the worst things about experiencing communication apprehension is that we are not in control of how our body reacts to the fear.
This adds to the anxiety because we fear that our fear is visible, and that we will be judged for it.
Because we are not in control of how the body reacts to our communication apprehension, the signs and symptoms are very clear to us, and often visible to others.
Here is a list of the most common symptoms and signs of communication apprehension:
The physiological changes that we feel in our bodies when we feel so nervous happen for specific reasons. They are designed to expand available energy, and they contribute to the efficient use of muscles.
Our hearts feels like they are pounding and our breathing increases in order to allow more oxygen to reach our muscles. Because our circulation has increased we feel that our hands are clammy and we are sweating.
Our body is being directed to speed up its movements by the adrenaline that is surging around it, but because we are usually standing still during a public speech or sitting still in a bar whilst on a date, we are not moving around, and so the hormonal urge to speed things up usually translates to parts of our body shaking instead.
We feel nausea or butterflies in our stomachs because our digestive processes are being inhibited in order to prevent us from lapsing into the relaxed or sleepy state that is typical after eating.
Successful public speakers look as if they have all the confidence in the world when they talk from their platform. It doesn't appear that they suffer from anything even marginally related to communication apprehension. But you might be surprised how far from the truth that is.
Effective speakers have simply learned to channel the negative energy into something that works for them instead of against them.
When you fully understand what is happening to your body, and how it is all just a physical response to the stress of let's say a public speaking event, it becomes easier to be aware of what is happening, and to be in control of those feelings rather than allow them to take over.
People who are good at public performance or public speaking often channel any symptoms of communication apprehension into their performance or speech.
They inject energy, movement, power, and animation in order to create a stage presence that results in audience engagement - positive audience engagement.
If the audience is blown away by your performance because you are awesome, then you don't have to worry about all of those eyes judging you, after all.
So now that you have a better idea of what is happening to your body and why, let's look at some ideas to manage these feelings, in order to deliver more effective communication in those situations that make you want the earth to swallow you up whole.
Negative thinking will get you nowhere, unless the only place you want to go is straight into a state of paralysis. Don't forget that communication apprehension begins in the mind.
If you can intercept your negative thoughts at this stage you may be able to avoid many of the physiological symptoms that can be so destructive.
Positive thinking is your best friend here. You must practice exchanging your negative thoughts for positive ones.
For example, instead of thinking of public speaking as an obligation with too much fear attached, try to think of it instead as an exciting opportunity to share your thoughts and make a difference in somebody else's life.
If there is one weapon that you keep with you at all times in order to fight communication apprehension with confidence, it should be organisation.
This skill will help you to feel a bit more relaxed as you will know what is coming. When you know exactly what to expect, the fear reduces.
So the next event that surfaces in which you know you will have to face people and talk to them, think ahead and prepare. If you have ideas that you want to express make sure that you organise them in your head or on paper, so that they are clear. This will stop you from getting lost, going off on a completely different route, or panicking.
A clear and simple plan is like a roadmap. If you find yourself meandering off-route, it will bring you back to your main points. But don't be too organised.
If you memorise a speech people will know that you are reciting and they will quickly become bored. Keep any plans simple with clear prompts that you can expand on.
Another good tip is to practice speeches in a similar venue to where the actual speech will take place. This makes things feel much more familiar on the day, leaving you feeling less distracted.
A sneaky trick that you can use if you are feeling unsure or self-conscious is to shift the spotlight. You can do this simply by engaging your audience. Ask them to contribute their thoughts to yours for example. This works in all kinds of situations.
Let's say you are having a team meeting at work and the spotlight is on you, inviting colleagues to offer their ideas and input takes the pressure off and reinforces the sense of team spirit.
If you are giving a talk, pose questions to your audience to make them think more deeply about the points you are making. Tell stories and ask people in the audience if they would like to share theirs.
Their input helps to reinforce the goals of your speech, and you will feel more confident when you witness people engaging and relating and responding to your content.
It's true, most professional speakers and performers experience nerves before they take centre stage. It's a natural body response to stress.
In fact actors are often taught to embrace that heightened state and the arousal of nervousness and channel it into their performance to make it sparkle.
The next time you feel the nervous twinge before speaking in public, see the sensation as a gift and practice putting it to good use.
If you are on a date or in a job interview just keep in mind that the recipient of your communication would much rather experience your nervousness as excitement or enthusiasm. That nervous energy of yours will stop you from being too relaxed and boring the other person to death.
In a way, we could view communication apprehension as a tool to help us step up our game when giving speeches or communicating with people.
They say that life is here to challenge us, and the more we step out of our comfort zones the more opportunities we give ourselves to develop and get the most out of life.
Never forget that when something feels difficult, uncomfortable or scary, you're probably heading in the right direction, so don't shy away from it, embrace the fear and make it work for you!