Since work stress is increasingly singled out for the physical illnesses it provokes, it appears essential to develop strategies to protect us. Public speaking is part of these well-known “stressors.” This type of stress however has one advantage: it stops once the presentation is finished. The exercise of public speaking thus provides excellent opportunities to feel and understand, over a brief time period, these mechanisms that we endure, which influence us and are, after all, possible to control.
Imagine a worst-case scenario: you are asked to prepare a speech for next week. You are terrified by the task and up to now you have managed to dodge it. Your first instinct is to try to be replaced but no one is available. A second reflex is to criticize the choice to your management, but you quickly realize that it would be frowned upon if you persist. You are stuck, fit for dwelling on your stress until the fateful date. But what is going on in your body?
The chain of reactions to stress is very complex. For simplicity sake, the nervous system has two ways of preparing the body to react. The first is the electrical signal, fast but short, that releases adrenaline (and its cousin noradrenaline), to put our bodies into action as quickly as possible. Then there’s the chemical signal that is slower to get started but the effect, which is more durable, triggers the secretion of cortisol. This process aims to help us take action by stimulating our alertness and responsiveness. But, it has a weakness: it is not made to last.
A stressful state not only consumes enormous energy, but it appears that prolonged exposure to cortisol, due to chronic stress, generates anxiety and depression, and boosts the onset of somatic diseases, especially cardiovascular ailments. These stakes are the basis for learning to respond effectively to stressful situations.
Whether you have the opportunity to express your discomfort or not, there is one thing you must avoid at all costs to preserve your health: remaining passive. In this case, the effects of stress are all the more harmful in that you cannot express either of your natural instinctive reactions: flight (having someone else give the presentation), or fight, (arguing your way out of it). It is therefore very important to not get submerged by the inhibition phase, to stay active, and to stay in control, even if partially, over the situation.
You can, for example, request some help, or take the opportunity to do something unexpected… the solutions are numerous, so long as you’re feeling up to it. It is in this context where stress management techniques come into play. Even if they bring no immediate solution to your problem, they allow you to stay in control and help you to build a suitable response: accepting, nuancing, or relativizing the situation and ultimately attempting to develop an original solution.