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Episode 213: Situational Anxiety


And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast.
The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 213 it’s titled Situational Anxiety and if you're ready we'll start the show.

Hiya! Another month another episode. How are things with you? You been up to much? I've been well busy. Some of you will already be very aware of this but in case you missed it as well as the weekly monday episodes I make for my favourite listeners on Patreon I've also been making a weekly episode for the public too with my colleague Fiona Biddle. It's called Therapy Natters and is supported by my Patreon subscribers.

So have a listen there's a link in the show notes to where to subscribe, it's on all the podcast platforms and if you have a question again there's a link below to submit something and maybe you'll get your question on the show. A bit like today's episode. Because this episode is in response to something a patron specifically asked me about and because it relates to one of the most common issues that people message me about I thought I'd talk about it today and that's situational anxiety.

When it's face to face clients coming with general anxiety we tend into go into how someones personality has developed over time and what has kept some anxious traits alive but when someone just messages me through Patreon or social media it's often about the situational stuff. You know, they've got a job interview coming up or a presentation to do that sort of thing. Sometimes it's bigger, life changing stuff but if we're honest,

for anxiety to hold us back, the stuff we have to face doesn't have to be as big as an audition for a west end play or the lead in a film does it. A job interview for a customer service representative job answering the phone and taking enquiries off customers for wallpaper can feel just as anxious. Genuinely, just the same. A lot of people who've never had much anxiety often don't realise that. Friends and family might not be aware that something that

THEY might find fairly easy is something that makes someone else feel like they're going to throw up on their shoes. So I get these messages that say things like "I have a job interview next week and I'm already preparing an email about cancelling it because I feel so sick what shall I do?" and whether you're a teacher facing a room full of parents at a progress evening, cos that will happen again one day or you've got to go on Good Morning Britain and promote your book

there will be things that our brain sees as threatening and tries to stop us from going through with it. And one way to help with that is to genuinely ask yourself "What's the worst that can happen?" and spend a little time getting your head around what would happen if it all went wrong. I know it sounds counter intuitive but hear me out. If you can put a plan in place for it all to go wrong then it can actually help your brain to

prevent it from seeing it as such a threat to your survival. Because that's what's going on there. You might cognitively think that it's just a job interview or a conference presentation but your body, your emotions, assume that it's the end of the world. So you can train the emotional processes of your brain and body that there is nothing to worry about that even if the worst case scenario does happen it's going to turn out ok in the end.

Because I think its fair to say that on the whole most of our worst case scenarios do end that way. Unless you're genuinely in a war zone you're going to come out of most of the situations that make us anxious unscathed. And maybe this CAN be reserved for war zones as well, like Biggles philosophy that I mentioned last month. I guess if we're done for, we're done for and there's nothing to worry about. And as the plane crashed down he thought "well isn't this nice."

But if we take a presentation in front of people as an example. The worst case scenario is that we struggle. Forget what we were going to say, look at our notes and appear under confident. Afterwards the world will still be spinning and even if people don't think we did a good job. We can still live happily ever after. I've seen plenty of presentations at conferences over the years where presenters haven't done a very good job because they were ill prepared or were ill!

If I work hard at it I can probably remember who some of them were. But in all honesty they're long forgotten to me, I could see them present at another conference and probably not remember the previous time even if they did do a bad job, because deep down. I don't care. People don't. We don't remember other people, no-one really cares about us long term and how we presented something at a meeting or a conference or even on breakfast tv.

It is very very soon forgotten, believe me. So worse case scenario is that we do a bad job, it's forgotten and we get on with our lives. And thinking about THAT, the getting on with our lives bit, will help us to deal with the anxiety. Even imagining the things that could go wrong with what we have to do. Like a job interview, like the absolute worse case scenario. Imagine that half way through,

the interviewer interrupts you and says something like "Look, I don't want to waste your time or mine, you're obviously not cut out for this job anyway, so lets put this down to experience shall we and I'll tell you now we won't be offering you the position. So thank you and good-bye" I mean it's not likely but hey worse case scenario. Think about it, honestly. It won't make it happen, there's no such thing as tempting fate.

Not really I mean we can focus on the things that we could do to make it go wrong, and that would definitely influence it but just having an awareness of it, no. But knowing that we have a plan for the worse case scenario, that even if we are binned off at the job interview like that we have a plan of action, even if it's just saying "wow, that's really honest. And I'm clearly not going to be able to change your mind am I. So I'll be on my way then"

and the world still spins and we carry on with our lives. Or if it's a presentation and the slideshow doesn't work. I ran an event once crikey must be 15 years ago now in flipping heck where was it erm. High Wycombe. Premier inn that was it. And I'd asked for a projector because we had quite a few images not just for the delegates but to help remind me where I was. This was an all day course you see. All about smoking cessation.

I turn up and they've given me a projector, but it was an old school projector. Literally. An overhead projector that you'd need transparent acetate slides for. Like we did in the 80's and I was not a happy bunny. I had to drive to one of their other hotels and pick up a proper projector and we started in a right rush. It was horrible, it felt like being late for a train that you've got no chance of catching cos you're on the wrong side of the city. It was sickening. Tell you what

I never worried about it happening again, because I was always prepared for it. I ALWAYS print off copies for myself to read off if I have to because the technology isn't working or it's 20 years out of time. So whenever I'm anxious about something like that and my brain tries to find a reason for the anxiety because it does. We do try to find a cognitive explanation for our feelings rather than accept them sometimes. I can settle it down a bit with some

inner dialogue along the lines of "even if it goes wrong, it'll be fine. I can handle it" and because I've given my brain evidence. Not of everything going swimmingly well, with a clapping and cheering audience and handshakes and whoops and whistles. But something based in reality, I can handle the anxiety better. When we only focus on a positive end goal it can actually do us more harm than good with many things.

It tricks the brain into thinking that everything will be alright by itself. Without any preparation, and that's a sure fire way of falling on your backside. I've been guilty of that in the distant past for sure and I still talk about it in therapy sometimes because the pain of those experiences have shaped my diligence in the present. I've learned from my mistakes, I know what works for me and what doesn't and it's important to look at what works for you.

It might be planning for the worst case scenario so as to prevent it, it might not be. Do what's right for you if you're feeling anxious about something that's coming up. It might be to do something with your body. There's what we call a bi-directional nature of behaviour and emotions. In CBT we talk about thoughts influencing emotions, emotions influencing behaviour and behaviour becoming habit

that creates expectation which creates thoughts and so on and so on round it goes. Well it works both ways too. Our body does influence our mood. Tricking people into smiling by making them hold a pencil in the teeth whilst they try to draw makes us a little bit happier, the same with the wonder woman hands on hips power poses although not quite to the same degree and it might be because of other stuff too in that experiment.

But one thing that has been repeatedly shown to help people is something called the half smile. It's actually a technique borrowed from Buddhism and only takes about 10 minutes to have an effect. You might have heard about the 2 different types of smiling. A genuine smile often called a Duchenne smile from the bloke who first made popular the muscle groups that we use when we smile and a fake smile sometimes called a Pan Am smile cos of the old airline company and their

overly smiley but obviously fake flight attendants. A genuine smile does improve our mood you see but a fake Pan Am one doesn't and the different is in the muscles we use when it's genuine, because it also pulls on some muscles around the eyes you see. But a fake one is all teeth and no meaning and makes you look like a Terminator. Smiling with the eyes isn't easy but it tends to happen when we don't try too hard to smile,

hence the half smile. Think of it like the Mona Lisa, is she smiling, is she not, it's difficult to tell. So go to smile and as soon as you notice any movement at the corners of your mouth, hold it there. Dont take it any further in case it turns into a fake one you see and holding a fake one for 10 minutes is going to hurt. But if you hold a half smile for 10 minutes whilst you stare out of a window or

listen to a podcast or whatever. It is very likely to improve your mood for the rest of the hour or longer maybe. And it will make it much easier to think about whatever it is you've got upcoming with some optimism and positivity and resist the urge to cancel or worse disconnect from the idea. It's one thing to cancel something because you're anxious but to disconnect from the idea is far worse because you end up with a new narrative for it.

What I mean by that is you create some lies about it, sour grapes. "I didn't even want to do it anyway?" that sort of thing. If you notice you're falling into that mindset keep in mind that there was a time when you did want to do it, whatever it is, it must have been important to you and disconnecting from it, devaluing it, throws a spanner in the works so that even if you do go through with it you'll have this half hearted attitude that won't be you at your best.

You wont be "the best you can be." So let's leave it here for now you beautiful people. If you want more from you can hear me on the Therapy Natters podcast and if you want to support me and the projects I'm in involved in then head on over to Patreon and for just a couple of quid you get not only my monday morning episodes but also early releases of therapy natters and hours and hours of other stuff too including a shed load of

hypnotherapy content, at current time of recording there is also I think 2 spaces left for the patron for a patron scheme. Which is where another patron contributes to the cost for you. You just pay a nominal fee to cover Patreons processing charges. There's a lot of financial worries out there at the minute and that obviously has a big knock on effect with everyones mental health so if we can support you we will. So please head on over to Patreon and show us some support if you can.

Thanks for listening and I'll be back next time. See ya.