Embrace the Red Face

The first article from our newest Engager, Olive Persimmon!

I’m standing in front of an audience of fifty people and I can feel that it’s happening. My face is starting to get hot. In a few minutes, my entire face and neck will be covered in blotchy hives. A few minutes after that, the hives will turn tomato red. Clown face red. Strawberry Shortcake red.

And I’m not even halfway through my speech.

Before I address my red face, let me start out by saying that I love public speaking. In fact, love is an understatement. I passionately, obsessively think of words as my gift. I’ve given 100’s of speeches to varying sizes of audiences. Despite all of this, I still occasionally turn red when I speak. Not always. Not often. But it happens. Enough that I decided to write about it.

When I started working professionally as a communication coach, I would occasionally find myself in front of the classroom starting to get blotchy. I was young and new in the field and frequently in front of professionals twice my age. So here I am, a younger professional teaching presentation/speaking skills with cheeks flushed rosy red. I was worried it would diminish my credibility. I was terrified that people would see my face turn red and think, “What can she possibly teach me about speaking? Her redness is a sign of insecurity.”

I became obsessed.

I scoured the internet for remedies for my red face. I downloaded videos and bought vitamins.  I changed my diet in case I had some sort of food allergy.  I practiced intense breathing methods and developed thorough routines. While some of these things helped, they also reinforced the internal agreement I had made with myself that this was a serious problem.

The more I obsessed about it, the worse it became. It was the only thing I could think about. For the first-time in my life, I started having full-on panic attacks while speaking or teaching.  My entire attention would focus on my face turning red and my body would enter “fight or flight” mode. Blood rushing to my ears. Heart racing. Numb fingers. This is what happens when our brains start to freak out and our bodies have a real and intense reaction to our perceived danger.

I had to do something.

This was stealing the joy from something I loved.  Something I had been doing for years. Giving up speaking was not an option. (It should never be an option. You have important ideas, your fear of speaking should NEVER prevent you from sharing them).

The turning point came after I watched this Youtube video with a man named Dr. Barry.

It turned out, the secret to ending panic attacks, was to do nothing. To elaborate, fight or flight mode occurs when our bodies think we are in danger. The more you feed the anxiety, the more it grows. The more I obsessed about my red face, the more symptoms I started having.

According to Dr. Barry, “Symptoms of anxiety are uncomfortable but not dangerous… Once you learn to accept that this is uncomfortable but not dangerous you will think… why am I letting something that is just uncomfortable take over my life…you begin to normalize the symptoms of anxiety. The second you normalize the symptoms, you’ve won the battle…and panic attacks will disappear from your life.”

I watched this video three times before putting it in action.

I was in front of a 14 professionals when I felt my face start turning red. Breathe. “This is uncomfortable but it isn’t dangerous,” I repeated to myself mentally. “I am not going to feed this fire.” After about five minutes, my face returned to normal.

I did this two more times after that initial occasion. I haven’t had a panic attack since then. It sounds simple. Truthfully, it was THAT simple. Definitely simpler than obsessing, fretting, and worrying.

Does my face still turn red while speaking? Yes. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it goes away. Sometimes it remains. But I don’t obsess about it. I talk through it. I voice my opinions clearly in meetings or with friends. I use my words to motivate, inspire, and make people laugh. Most importantly, I keep speaking. I keep looking for opportunities to speak even though I know it might happen. I have something to say and I refuse to let my fear steal that from me.

So, if you’re afraid to speak because you think you might have a physical reaction. Sweatiness. Or shallow breathing. Or Red face or dry mouth or whatever. Speak anyway. It’s as simple as that. Open your mouth and speak. Learn to breathe. Hydrate yourself. But start by opening your mouth and saying something.

Your body may react. It may not. And if it does, remind yourself that you are not in danger despite uncomfortable symptoms. That you have important things to say.

Embrace the red face.

– Olive Persimmon

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