I don’t want to get eaten alive – there’s few things more scary to contemplate than that.
That said, I try to make a habit of identifying what I’m scared of and assessing if the fear is actually reasonable (it usually isn’t). If it falls into the unreasonable category then my usual ridding tactic is some masochistic over-exposure therapy (spiders, bad-beats) or by heavy, steady analysis. A good way to do that is repeatedly ask myself “ok sure, but why?” until the fear is so bored with the topic it gives up (this one is very helpful if you’re a sufferer of the dreaded FOMO).
Evolution has hard-wired the prehistoric parts of our brains to go into chemical overdrive when something is scary, because back in the day, almost all scary stuff could kill you. Even social interaction was higher stakes – we lived in tiny clans that relied on social cohesion for survival from the big bad world. If you messed up too much, you could be exiled from the group and then probably get eaten, by them or by something else. These days, a screw-up isn’t likely to result in blood loss. Humiliation still sucks, and your life can be temporarily ruined by it but you’ll physically survive.
But our brains haven’t caught up to that yet. When a social anxiety manifests, our bodies are flushed with the same adrenaline and cortisol and a ton of flight-or-fight dread that makes us feel awful, and thus we’ll do anything to avoid it.
And public-effoing-speaking still does that to me. I’ve done a few formal speeches now, and while each one has gone by just fine, there’s still an inordinate amount of stress throughout the process I’d like to eradicate. So I’m gonna carry on exposure therapying myself via exposing a recent one on here:
This was filmed at Oxford University Union a couple of months ago. They wanted a talk on poker – a bit tricky when the audience is probably smarter than you, but consisting of a highly variable skill level. Fortunately the footage isn’t HD, or you’d see the rivers of sweat pouring down my face. I didn’t know whether to stand or sit – I wasn’t at a lectern and was given a table and chair, but giving a speech while sitting is just weird as hell for everyone. If you look closely, you can probably spot the two moments where I consider bolting from the room.
Of course, it went just fine – the audience were kind and the subject matter well received. The exposure therapy actually does work. And this experience also taught me something far more useful – if you do have social anxiety, it’s not the live audience you should ever be scared of. They will not eat you.
But there are monsters out there, baying, vicious, primal creatures, ready to tear you limb-from-limb and revel in your blood… YouTube commenters.
Fear of them is understandable, and it’s necessary to grow a thick skin that they can’t bite through, and fast.