Psychological Self-Help

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of crowds, as a cheer leader, she was usually at ease, feeling confident
of her talent, as long as she didn't have to speak. But answering
questions in class was hard. Talking to teachers and older people was
not easy for her. And when she had to speak in front of class, she felt
very nervous, both before the speech and especially during it. She got
tense, her voice quavered, she forgot what she wanted to say, her
knees got weak, she thought she would really mess up. (Fear of
speaking before a group is the most common fear; 41% of U.S. adults
have it [Wallace, Wallechinsky & Wallace, 1977].) 
Jane really wanted to be an actress and majored in Theater and
Speech-Communication in college. She knew she had to conquer the
speech phobia. She tried and tried to confront the fears by talking in
certain classes. Her determination to overcome stage fright also
motivated her to prepare carefully for small parts in plays. She even
tried out for the debate team but didn't make it. Later she had a
chance to appear on the campus radio as a news announcer. She was
scared but she did it. 
Eventually, as a senior, Jane became one of the anchorpersons on
the campus TV news. She was very attractive; other students seemed
envious; she gained confidence. A few months after she graduated,
she found work as a TV reporter for a small station. It was scary but
two years later she was co-anchor of the local evening news. As she
became more experienced, she noticed an interesting thing
happening--she became less and less uptight while performing but she
remained very anxious and disorganized before going on the air. There
was almost a panic reaction, difficulty concentrating, dry mouth, and
an upset stomach as she prepared to read the news. When it was air
time, she settled down. It surprised her to discover that many
seasoned professionals experience intense stress prior to performing.
(The great violinist, Isaac Stern, reportedly goes to the stage
sometimes muttering to himself, "I can't play. I'm no good." Perhaps
that is one reason why so many performers use drugs.) 
Signs of Stress
The first task is to recognize what stress (or fear or anxiety) is--to
become aware if and when you have it. Ask yourself these questions:
Are you often tense, uptight, and unable to relax? Do setbacks disturb
you a lot? Do you overlook the small pleasures in life? Do you fret and
worry a lot? Do you have many self-doubts and self-criticism? Does
your anger flare up more than it used to? Do you have trouble
sleeping? Do you feel tired or experience pain? Are you under pressure
and/or restless? Answering "yes" to any one of these questions may
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