Sunday 13th April, 2014

What should you do when you start hyperventilating?

Diane asks, ‘What should you do when you start hyperventilating?’

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What is hyperventilation?

When you hyperventilate your breathing becomes shallow and fast. Do it for a prolonged period and you may briefly lose consciousness (faint). Hyperventilation tends to happen as a symptom of a condition known as a ‘panic attack’ and is associated with a feeling of stress and anxiety about a situation, even when there is no real danger (the panic being caused by thoughts rather than reality).

If you always (or frequently) hyperventilate when you speak

It is unusual to find public speaking so stressful that it causes you to hyperventilate. If this happens to you I strongly suggest you see your GP for advice. Your GP may refer you to a counsellor who will help you to understand why you are hyperventilating or panicking in this situation and will help you find a way to deal with the situation more positively.

If you always (or frequently) hyperventilate while public speaking it must have been frightening for you (and probably frightening for your audience too!). Please don’t speak again until you have seen your GP and tackled the root cause of your hyperventilation. Ignoring what happened is not an option. You may find you speak again without hyperventilating, but what about the next time, and the time after that? Please takes steps to address the root cause of the hyperventilation before you speak in public again.

Challenge the negative belief

If you hyperventilate when you speak it may be because you hold an unconscious belief that you shouldn’t speak in public. Perhaps you believe that you don’t ‘deserve’ to be heard. Or maybe someone once told you that you’re not a good public speaker or told you that no one is interested in what you have to say.

We can store other people’s opinions of us in our unconscious minds as beliefs, even when they are not true. You may be a gregarious person in other situations in your life, but if you hold a deep-seated belief that you should not speak then your brain may send signals to your body that you should be quiet when you try to speak in public. By causing you to hyperventilate your brain attempts to make you stop speaking because it believes it is protecting you from danger!

However, there is no danger. What you need is to hold a different belief about yourself as a public speaker, one that confirms that you deserve to be heard and that people are interested in what you have to say.

To achieve this, write on a piece of paper all the reasons why people are interested in what you have to say. If you’re not sure, ask a friend or someone you work with to give you some suggestions. Put your list somewhere you will see if often, and read it aloud to yourself several times every day. When you do this, you are encouraging your unconscious mind to form a new belief about yourself as a public speaker.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is an excellent technique for helping you to focus on the present using your breath as the focus of your awareness. I have created an hour-long presentation about mindfulness meditation that will help you begin to understand how it can help you develop the right mindset for public speaking by focussing your thoughts on your breathing.

By practising slow, deep breaths (with your eyes closed) before your talk you will be able to bring yourself into a stay of calm that is ideal for public speaking. Do this every time you speak, not only if you’re feeling a bit anxious. All great speakers should approach the stage feeling calm and in control so deep breathing and mindfulness meditation is great for every speaker, not just those who have mild anxiety.


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