Guest post: Neil

An Anxious Comedian Attempts To Talk About It

Public speaking is terrifying. All my life, it's been one of my worst fears... and as someone who has also lived with anxiety for much of my life, that's saying a lot.
But it was also something I've always been drawn towards. This poses a problem. If I don't get up on stage and speak or do standup comedy, I feel weak and pathetic for being too scared to do something I want to do. But if I do, then I have to face my fear of public speaking.
In the end, I decided if I was going to suffer either way, I might as well DO the thing rather than sitting around miserably wishing I had.
For years, this was the arrangement. I'd get up on stage, make jokes, have fun... but one thing remained off limits: talking publicly about my anxiety. This added to the pain my anxiousness caused me – I was too scared of it to even talk about it.
Partly, I think I subconsciously believed that talking aloud about anxiety – even only acknowledging its existence – could somehow make it stronger.
This is wrong, of course. So now I've decided to take that power away from anxiety. I'm sharing about it publicly, to show my anxiety that I don't fear it anymore – and hopefully to help others to do the same.
One of the things I've learned is that opening up is important. And through this I was invited to give a TED talk about my anxiety, where I shared the other important part of what I've learned: that it helps a surprising amount to compare anxiety to custard. Allow me to explain:
Okay, so if you've seen the video then you'll know a few more things about me... including that I apparently can't operate very simple slide-changing machinery.
But let's ignore that for now. I want to talk more about openness. Like I said, it feels so natural to keep our troubles a secret. We're afraid of judgement, of vulnerability, of being hurt... of so many things.
We shouldn't feel bad about finding it hard to talk. It's natural, it's common, it's human to struggle with vulnerability. But it doesn't have to remain this way.
Bottling anxiety up gives it extra power, and sharing about it takes that power away. More than that: our openness helps others to be open themselves. Each time we share our troubles, we take a small step towards creating a world where more people feel free to say "I feel that way too!"
The more I've spoken publicly about anxiety, the more people have said to me: "Me too!"
Of course, it's crucial to choose how, where and who we share our struggles with. Openness is important, but so is feeling safe.
I think that often the very first step to reduce the power of our anxiety is to begin talking about it with someone that we trust.
It's a long journey from there to peacefulness, but it's a long journey I hope we can share with one another.
Neil Hughes is the author of 'Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious Humans'. You can find him at or talking nonsense on Twitter as @enhughesiasm. He likes it when you say hello.