University Lecturer with Fear of Public Speaking
Eve was a university professor. She was a very creative and imaginative woman but she was sitting in front of me at my office because she was struggling with severe anxiety and fear. Five years before coming to see me, Eve had a panic attack while riding on a city bus. The experience was devastating for her.
She couldn’t breathe, saw black dots in her vision and felt her face go numb. She was terrorized by the experience because she felt like she was dying or at least going mad. With great difficulty she had managed to get off the bus and after a few hours had finally calmed down. This terrible ordeal was the first but not the last panic attack she experienced. She suffered from similar panic attacks regularly.
A few years later she got divorced from her husband and her anxiety grew and grew in intensity until she developed a social phobia. Eve started to avoid certain situations and developed a fear of talking in front of people. This then lead to a great deal of anxiety because she was a university professor and a large part of her job was to give lectures to students on a daily basis. After a few months she discovered that she was now also afraid of doctors and hospitals. One day when she was scheduled to go for a blood test as part of her routine medical check up, she had a panic attack as soon as she saw the nurse holding the needle. With great difficulty she struggled out of the clinic. Things got so bad that even if Eve heard other people talking about a disease or visiting a doctor, she would start to feel her level of fear and anxiety rising.
Eve had undertaken psychotherapy with a psychologist for few months and had been prescribed a common anti-anxiety medication. After several months of therapy, the psychologist Eve was seeing had told her that she had many ‘insecurities’ that were causing her problems. When she saw no improvement from the psychotherapy Eve changed her therapist and tried Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). She explained that while she was thinking about her fear and imagining different situations, the therapist would tap her knees. But this therapy didn’t help her either.
“I’m scared of fear itself”, she confided to me.
She said that she couldn’t take it anymore. So far she had managed to give lectures because she was controlling her breathing to avoid a panic attack but at the end, she always ended up with a terrible migraine. She had a lecture coming up in a week and she asked if I would be able to help her in such a short time.
I told her that I definitely could give her some tips and teach her a technique to make the dreaded lecture an easier experience. But I needed a few weeks in order to help her completely. After all, she had social anxiety, panic, fear of public speaking, needle phobia and a medical phobia.
I explained to Eve how to avoid making the major mistakes that actually make anxiety and fear more intense. I then taught her a technique specifically for her to help her to stay calm before and during the lecture.
A week later she said that she was still a bit nervous but had managed to give the lecture with considerably less difficulty. Even more notable, she had no headache afterwards. I gave her more tasks and an exercise to perform until we saw each other at the next session.
A week later she said that she felt even better. She had overheard someone talking about a disease which made her anxious, but a much less than before. In the following session she told me that she had accepted an invitation to go rappelling. She was very excited to have felt a rush of anxiety that she had enjoyed!
I explained to Eve that she could do whatever she wanted as long as she wasn’t exposing herself to anxiety and fear in order to get better. If she wanted to do something that before was impossible, she better do it because she really wanted it. Otherwise it would be an artificial experience.
With the help of my directions and exercises, Eve gradually healed herself from all of her fears and anxiety. And she was able to not only perform her job comfortably but went on to have a much more happy and joyful personal life as well.