Hey, I’m back! Today is going to be a recent personal account because it’s an excellent example of both the correct and incorrect use of anxiety. I went from anxious avoidance to productive energy and it shows how even though I have techniques and coping plans for anxiety, I only applied them at the end. This reflects the unfortunate truth of our intellect often knowing what should be done but having emotions too powerful to act on it. Simply put, I allowed my anxiety to run away from me. I use the word allowed because I know that if I had changed my thought patterns / habits sooner, I would have had a better handle on my emotions. Let’s get to it.
An Uncomfortable Truth
I had my oral presentation yesterday. (Yes. THE dreaded French oral presentation.) But guess what? It went super well! I am so so happy and grateful, plus, I learned something important. I was very anxious during the two weeks leading up to the big day, as you can well imagine. But since I’m able to handle anxiety better with my new ‘techniques’, I had waves of anxiety about the oral when I thought about it but successfully avoided the slow burn of unease and dread. To be honest I thought I was doing pretty well at coping; at least until I got hit in the face by reality.
I think it was the rapidly approaching deadline that smacked me, but I’m grateful it did. I saw my current coping strategy for what it was; AVOIDANCE. Yes…something that I strongly caution against but was guilty of myself! It turns out that every time I distracted myself and/or said that I would prepare enough to lessen my anxiety, I was actually running away. I also did what I’m going to call ‘token preparation’. As the name implies, I would practice once or twice and leave it there thinking that I had at least worked on it. The truth was that it never went that well but I’d tell myself that it was ok because if I read and reread my information later it would sink in and I’d have no problem. Haha…no problem…
I’ll just come right out and admit it; there was no later. Or should I say, it was always later. Yep. Anxiety can equal tremendous procrastination if we’re not really careful. Telling myself it would be fine because I’d work on it the next day was a short-acting chill pill. It worked but let’s face it, it was a bandaid!
Now that brings us to last weekend. I had no time to practice on Saturday so Sunday and yesterday morning were my only chance. It was a good thing in a way, because feeling unprepared hit hard and scared me into action. I should have acted sooner, but at least my thoughts flipped and I changed my attitude. The anxiety was mounting and no lying to myself was going to work this time seeing as the presentation was Monday. Here’s the shift that occurred.
Time for a New Strategy
First of all, my confidence in French is low. Very low. In conversation with coworkers for example, French is fine though. ‘Je me débrouille.’ – I can handle myself and it’s not so stressful anymore. I still worry, but it’s nothing like a written assignment. As you can imagine, the idea of an oral presentation however where I had key points, explanations and studies to reference, well that was a different story. For past oral presentations I used pure memorization because I had no faith in linking all the words together fluidly and would otherwise pause too long to find the right words in French. The plan was to do the same with this oral. (By the way oral presentations in English scare me almost as much.)
That’s where a big change happened. I realized that the teacher wasn’t looking for a flawless speech, but rather wanted to get an idea of my semi-conversational French and how I explain myself and my chosen topic. The fact that he said it was informal and didn’t want to be read something, brought the message home. Rigid and stressful memorization was no longer the answer in this situation so I sat my butt down and did what I should have at least a week sooner. I read my written oral and then wrote the key points down for each section. I used key words and made sure to write the words I knew I’d have difficulty remembering. I shortened my first copy of this and then made 6 cue cards with my points written in different colours so I could easily find where I was while speaking. I familiarized myself with the cards and practiced. FINALLY! Yesterday I felt far less anxious than I had expected! I also practiced in front of my parents by going through it twice, and their feedback told me that I had done the right thing. They said that there was a huge difference compared to last week, which really emboldened me for the real deal. They said I was prepared, would do very well and that I had effectively practiced on the weekend.
When it came down to it of course I was nervous, but that was normal. What really mattered was that I had effectively addressed what I had to do and minimized the anxiety to a manageable level as a result. Of course being prepared doesn’t necessarily mean no anxiety, but there was another mental process that helped with what remained. I calmed myself down with deep breathing while I reminded myself of a few things.
- The teacher isn’t against me, he’s actually very kind and wants us to succeed. He won’t be trying to trip me up. If he does ask questions, I can do it.
- I now know that I prepared to the best of my ability and that’s all anyone can ask for. In the end I did my best and I will do my best during the real thing.
- I’m not the only one who’s anxious about this assignment. We’re in the same boat, even if the degree of anxiety varies.
- It’s the last project of the semester and it’s the last official French course in my schooling. I’m going to end it on a very positive note because this is a big thing. I’m actually succeeding…believe it!
- If I trip up on my words or need to breathe, that’s perfectly ok. I’ll remain calm and deal with it. After all…even if I mess up a little it’s NOT the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that my r-score is going to plumet and ruin my chances for University! Keep things in perspective Karina.
- This, though uncomfortable, is a good experience! It’s an opportunity to learn and prove myself capable of more than I think.
- Yes, I started too late and didn’t use my time properly until the end, but it’s ok that I made a mistake. Again, it’s a learning opportunity if I make it one! It’s all about attitude. I didn’t fail, I actually caught myself on time and should acknowledge that small victory. (P.S. Any victory can be big and significant if you make it such.)
Reaping my Rewards
When the camera turned on and my teacher said I could begin in my own time, a bubble of ‘I can’t do this’ caught in my throat. It’s a good thing that I’m stubborn, because I took the plunge and just started speaking. Ready or not, here I come…but I am ready. 8 minutes later, I had successfully explained my topic and had barely looked at the cue cards (even though it would’ve been fine if I had glanced a lot.) As my mom commented, the beaming smile on my face when I walked in, said it all.
Obstacles and roadblocks come along but you know what? My GPS is gaining power…and so can yours!
If you’d like to read more about anxiety, I recommend Part 1 and Part 2 of this collection.