Tuesday, 5 August 2014

How I Overcame Social Anxiety & Panic Attacks To Appear On Live TV

It's been 2 weeks now since I rushed off to London for one of the most hectic and stressful mornings of my life to film an interview segment for This Morning on post pregnancy sex.

I blogged about the experience itself here - I discussed the lead up to the interview, and what happened afterwards with lots of the great photos I got courtesy of Eamonn Holmes!

But I did promise to come back and talk in more detail about how I felt doing the interview and how I handled my anxiety while talking on live TV.

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know that I have a lot of anxiety problems which I am currently seeing a counsellor for as well as trying various other approaches.

I suffer with panic attacks which can come on suddenly and unexpectedly, and I also suffer with social anxiety.

Neither of these things are ideal when thinking about going on Live TV - particularly to be interviewed about a difficult and touchy subject, by people you have never met before!

I was quite calm in the days leading up to the interview, I think I had chosen not to think about it too much - telling myself it would probably end up being cancelled or something last minute.

The panic and anxiety only really hit me on the Tuesday evening - the night before the interview - when I was out shopping for an outfit and having real difficulty finding anything suitable.

When I start to feel extremely anxious, I can often boil over and end up a complete emotional mess - and this is what happened that evening!

I got myself into a total spin, insisting that I wasn't going at all - I eventually found an outfit but it was too late by that point and I spent the evening very upset. There were lots of tears and lots of shouting!

When I woke up in the morning, it was all go ... there was the drama of the train being cancelled and everything being very last minute ... I actually think this helped a lot as it meant the focus was shifted from the interview itself to actually just managing to get there on time.

I remained calm for the whole journey, and tried to go over possible questions they might ask me and think of how I might want to respond.

Once we arrived to Paddington station and got into the taxi to the studio, I started to receive messages from friends saying I was being announced as "Up Next" on the show before I had even arrived - this was when the panic finally arrived!

I remember getting quite teary in the car and feeling helpless. My breathing was getting fast and shallow, and I started to get palpitations and feel jittery.

 But the situation was out of my hands - there was nothing at all I could do about it, so I had to take a deep breathe and let it go.

It's not as easy as it might sound but when you are in a situation that you have absolutely no control over, there is nothing else to do but try to breathe through it.

Upon arriving at the studio, again things happened at lightning speed - I didn't have time to stop and think about what was happening and before I knew it I was sitting on that famous sofa waiting for the interview to start.

I had a little heart flutter when I heard the intro music play, and Ruth & Eamonn started the segment....I guess you could say this was when the "Fight or Flight" mode kicked in.

I surprised myself by managing to stay reasonably calm....there were 4 key things I did to make sure that I kept it together:

1)I did not look over at the cameras at all - I tried to block out that whole part of the room. 
I didn't once glance over, I didn't know what the cameras looked like or how many there were, I didn't know how many people were standing there watching....I pretended that I was sitting with JUST Ruth, Eamonn and Dr Dawn Porter. That it was just the 4 of us having a conversation.
I also avoided looking at any of the many screens dotted around showing us being interviewed...I knew if I saw myself on a screen it would all become too real.

2)I tried my best to make myself believe that this was not being seen by anybody else...it wasn't for TV...it was just a chat between 4 people, and I happened to be one of them. I felt instantly calmer when I told myself this. Thankfully I am quite good most of the time at tricking myself, which can be beneficial when it comes to handling panic and anxiety.

3) I focused my mind on staying in the present. 
I have a tendency to let my mind run away with itself, and often during conversations I am thinking about a million other things...meaning I lose focus on what's being discussed - I didn't want this to happen during the interview. I needed to make sure I was listening to every point being made, so that I knew how to respond....

To do this I focused on my breathing, and made sure it was regular and steady. Not too deep and not too shallow. 

I listened intently to each person as they spoke, made sure I was looking straight at them and not being distracted by anything else, and I tried to take in every word they said. I found it helpful to concentrate on their faces to do this....its easy to glance around and allow yourself to be distracted, but when you focus on a persons mouth as they speak and see the words as well as hear them it does make a difference and it allows me to focus more fully on the conversation.

4) I smiled.

It sounds silly, but I told myself that a smile can make even the most nervous person appear confident. 
Not a wide eyed, crazy vacant smile of course! But I just tried to make sure I appeared relaxed and friendly by not allowing myself to think of the situation too deeply - not allowing myself to think that it was being broadcast, pretending I was talking to 3 people in a waiting room to whom I wanted to be open and friendly - so I smiled as I would to any person who had started a conversation with me in the supermarket or anybody who knocked on my door....If a delivery man knocks at my house and chats to me, I smile. If a charity collector stops me in the street and talks to me, I smile.
I tried to be sure I was using that same polite smile throughout the interview, and this calmed me.

People told me that I looked confident and relaxed during the interview, and I think it was a combination of these 4 things that allowed that to happen.

I also believe strongly that acting can be hugely beneficial to people with anxiety issues.

I studied performing arts at college, and this is something I often fall back on when trying to deal with social anxiety...

I try to imagine that I'm not insecure Hayley who doesn't know what to do or say....I'm a character with confidence who knows exactly what she wants to say and how to say it.

Some may say that acting your way through life isn't the answer, but I do find it very helpful in dealing with social anxiety problems.

I didn't feel too confident deep down, but I did feel in control and that was the most important thing for me.

There was one point during the interview that I started to trip over my words, and I did feel quite flustered at that point.

I felt as though I was "In my head" too much.....I knew I had stumbled over a word, and the voice in my head started to throw me in to doubt....

"You're stuttering! Oh no! Stop it! Stop it now!"

Of course the more you allow these thoughts in, the more you will stumble over the words.

I took a deep breath and focused my mind immediately on the point I was trying to make, and it seemed to help.

Luckily there were no more stumbles.

Once the interview was over with, it was hard to believe it all had gone without too much of a hitch.

I gave myself a little pat on the back for getting through it, and I do feel quite proud of myself for overcoming the anxiety to do it.

I did what I could to try to avoid allowing any negative in to the experience....I was so worried (as I always am) about what people would think of me, but I was so fortunate to have been surrounded by so many wonderfully supportive people who sent me lovely messages on social media...so again thank you to everybody who did as it really helped and gave me a massive boost.

I made sure not to allow myself to read any comments from strangers on social media...This Morning have their own social media accounts and I knew from before the interview that their were some trolls already making negative comments on the subject we'd be discussing, so I didn't allow myself to go back on and read anything that was said after my appearance.

It's so tempting to me to always want to know about any bad things being said about me....to someone like me with such deep set confidence issues it's all too tempting to feed the problem, as though hearing someone elses negative opinion of me somehow gives me confirmation that I'm right to think so poorly of myself.

But I knew it wasn't a wise move, and I managed to avoid it.

I was sent a lovely photo by a good friend of mine Alex (who blogs at Bump To Baby) on the evening of the appearance.

She emailed this to me that night, I had no idea she was doing it, it came as a lovely surprise and was so very thoughtful of her....I found it incredibly touching.

Her message simply said that she had made this for me to look at whenever I was having one of those dark days when everything seems like an uphill struggle....

So again I'd like to thank her for her kindness.....and I do look at this when I`m feeling low. And it does help.

It may not seem like a big deal to most people but it was a big achievement for me to overcome my anxieties enough to do this....and celebrating and remembering these little victories is the key to overcoming them in the long term.

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