Hi Andy,

My main reason for getting involved with Headspace is that I am performing soon in front of a large audience. Last time I did this was 37 years ago. I was terrified and the adrenalin rush ruined my performance.

I need to be able to calm down and focus and not worry as I know I’m perfectly capable, but my mind doesn’t allow me to relax. I am on day four of Take10. What do I do?

Andy’s answer:

The good news is that having started Headspace, you have already begun the journey toward a calmer and less reactive mind. It may not feel like that straight away, but Take10 is very early on in the program and really just the beginning.

The situation you describe is incredibly common and it is amazing how long those experiences can stay with us. Your own experience 37 years ago is a good case in point. To say that your mind will have changed over 37 years is an understatement. While you may still identify yourself as the same person, the conditioning and life events over the last 37 years have made you a different person. This is important to recognize and acknowledge, otherwise we’re always hamstrung by the events of the past, projecting them into the future, assuming that we will experience them in the same way as before.

So the two central themes here are letting go and expectation. As traumatic as it may have been, that event was a long time ago. Meditation will help you let go of things like this. Looking forward, the more expectation you carry into the talk, the more challenging it will be. In this way, we really do create our own experience. It’s not that it “will happen to you,” but more that we “do it to ourselves.”

So the first thing is to establish a daily practice, which you’ve already done. This will help you to become more aware of when the mind begins to feel overly excited or anxious and in seeing that clearly, to also let go of it. While that awareness is getting stronger, as much as possible, try to view the occasion with genuine curiosity. Rather than anticipating a feeling and worrying about what it might feel like, notice what you are actually feeling and what it does feel like. And regardless of what the feeling is, examine it, be curious. Where do you feel it? Is it stable or changing? When you start to observe the mind in this way, things begin to change.

Looking at the reason for being anxious can sometimes help too. Mostly it’s because we don’t want to fail (whatever that means to us an individual). Whether we don’t want to look silly, feel silly, disappoint others or disappoint oneself, these thoughts are what usually underlie any anxiety around public speaking. And as for an adrenaline rush, well, unless you are public speaking on a daily basis, this is pretty standard. If you can get comfortable with it, you’ll find that it will quickly subside once you begin. But if you buy into it and confuse it with anxiety or something you need to prevent, then it will only get stronger.

As a final thought, it’s always good to take a few minutes before a talk to relax the body and mind. Even deep breathing can help.

Hope all goes well.

Warm wishes,