What Happens in Stage Fright & Fear of Public Speaking


When you do become the center of attention, there is only one thing to do: try to exit the situation by leaving your body.  If you can’t get out of the situation by avoiding the event, then you try to avoid the sensations felt inside.  The way to avoid the sensations is to leave your physical body by abandoning your awareness of it.  This abandonment of the physical self occurs instantly and unconsciously.

What happens is that your mind withdraws full awareness from of body in an attempt to avoid intense emotions.  You “go into your head.”  Energetically, your awareness is drawn up into your head, so that it becomes over-stimulated with energy and sensation.  Your head literally feels like it is swelling.  From the neck down, you tighten the body in order to freeze the flow of feeling.  If the body gets tense enough, it will shake in order to restore a flow of energy through the body. And it all happens so quickly that you can’t stop it.  It is as if you are trying to zoom out of the top of your head to get away from the sensation of stage fright. 

Suddenly, you are no longer present; you no longer have awareness of being in your body.  Your awareness is somewhere else.  Your body is standing there and your mouth may be speaking the words, but you are gone. You are no longer being there!

I remember the first time I experienced these sensations.  I was in the fifth grade and I had decided to join the band.  My parents bought me a shiny silver flute which I tried to learn to play.  But, try as I might, I could not understand the concept of notes.  Every day at practice, the band director would stop practice and try to explain.  He would kneel in front of me and focus all his attention on trying to explain notes to me while all the kids watched.  I was embarrassed and humiliated.  Each day, I had the same strange reaction to the situation.  It was as if the room filled up with water and he was talking to me underwater.  I could not hear him because I could not stay present and face what seemed to be a humiliation.

Since then, I have experienced many uncomfortable and strange reactions to being the center of attention.  Almost always, I would tremble and shake with a terrible force.  Sometimes, my awareness would seem to be outside my body as if I were watching myself from a distance.  Often I just became stiff and wooden, robot-like in my presentation.  Sometimes I felt as if I were struck dumb.  Now I understand these were all ways of avoiding the situation by leaving my body.  I would simply go “un-present” whenever I was faced with a difficult situation.

In becoming un-present, you choose not to be there. The mental part of your awareness withdraws from the physical and emotional parts, because you cannot stand to experience the fear, discomfort and shame felt in your body.  Your mind perceives the situation as a dire threat to your very survival.  This splitting off of your mind from body and emotions leaves you feeling disoriented and dis-integrated.  Your head may feel swollen and fuzzy, so filled with buzzing energy that you cannot think clearly.  Your body loses strength and stability.  Since your muscles are not relaxed, your body begins to shake and tremble in an attempt to get energy flowing. I am sure you can describe many more symptoms that occur, including sweaty palms, fat tongue, neck and face flushing, heart pounding, loss of breath and a high, squeaky voice.

There is no way to do a great presentation or performance or to communicate effectively in this un-present and dis-integrated state.  To regain your potential, you must begin to re-integrate the different aspects of yourself amid the intensity of being the center of attention.  You must learn to stay present so that you have your whole self, with all your parts working together, when you present, perform or communicate in front of others.  This is the task, and though it seems daunting, it is not as difficult as you might expect.