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How to Conquer Your Most Common Fears

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Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

Public Speaking Is Your Worst Nightmare


School psychologist Elisabeth D'Amato, 35, of Wethersfield, Connecticut, is no stranger to speaking in front of a group, but every time she has to give a presentation to staff or students, anxiety sets in. "About an hour beforehand, I start feeling nauseated and sweaty," she says. The symptoms once sabotaged Elisabeth's performance so completely that they cost her a job. "I bombed at an interview," she says. "A member of the review committee told me I was one of the worst interviewees he'd ever seen."

Worrying about screwing up in a high-pressure situation makes it more likely that you actually will, says Sian Beilock, PhD, the author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. "Our worries eat up brainpower that's better spent on preparing for the event," Beilock says.

While Elisabeth still gets nervous when she has to speak to a group, she has learned how to control her behavior so that no one else notices. Her tricks: taking deep yoga breaths before the event and fiddling with a paper clip to channel nervous energy while she talks.

Conquer It: Practice Under Pressure

Rehearsing in your head isn't enough. Run through your presentation with a coworker, record yourself with your webcam, or practice in front of a mirror.

Conquer It: Psych Yourself Up

When you start to experience the physical symptoms of stress, try to label them as excitement ("Let's go!") rather than fear ("Oh, no!"). Easier said than done, for sure, so remind yourself by writing a go-get-'em phrase like "You got this!" at the top of your speech notes.

Meditation 101

Setting aside a few minutes a day to cultivate mindfulness -- the awareness of what's happening in the present -- trains your brain to slip into a calmer way of seeing the world when fear strikes, says Britta H?lzel, PhD, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who has studied meditation and fear. "The moment you stop trying to control or suppress your emotions and let go of resistance, the body's natural physiological response is to quiet itself," she explains. Here's how: Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Focus on your breath, observing the physical sensations that occur as you inhale and exhale. Concentrate on those sensations without judging them. When thoughts or worries surface, acknowledge them and bring your focus back to your breath. Start with five minutes a day and build up to 20.

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