For whatever ails you, there is a TED talk for that. The organization pulls talent from around the world to speak about their passion, their careers, and their challenges. For a long time, I assumed TED speakers were so successful that they’d never be concerned about mental illness – but I was wrong. What the TED talks have taught me is that everyone – even the most intelligent, successful people in this world – can struggle with issues like anxiety.
Seeing others speak about anxiety is powerful. I have a generalized anxiety disorder, which a few years ago ended up developing into full-blown panic disorder. I intimately know how this experience can impact every aspect of your life.
My anxiety has since settled down, but only after I put in a lot of work. I thought I knew everything about my mental health – the best TED talks on anxiety have opened my eyes. There is a lot all of us can learn about anxiety through some of the many speakers TED has brought to the stage.
Whether you struggle with anxiety or have a close friend or family going through a difficult period, you might be surprised with what the TED talks open up. Here are a few of my favorites, which have put my anxiety into perspective.
Erica Joy Baker and “How We Bridge the Anxiety Gap at Work”
Erica Joy Baker, an Engineering Lead for Slack, knows a thing or two about anxiety in the workplace. She started working in tech 15 years ago, for the likes of Google, but like many tech executives, her resume doesn’t initially give this away.
She sits on many advisory boards (She Girl Develop It, Code.org Diversity Council, Barbie, Atipica, and Hack to Hood). She has also won many awards and included on a number of prestigious lists including 2015 Level Playing Field Institute Lux Award and WIRED Magazine’s 2016 Next List. Her resume reads a lengthy list of achievements but hides a deeply rooted anxiety she has only recently started speaking about.
Her TED Talk, How We Bridge the Anxiety Gap at Work, presented at TED@BCG in October 2017, exposes the impact of racism, sexism, and exclusion on underrepresented tech workers like herself. She uses her own story, as a black woman in tech, as a prime example of how the environment shapes experience and impacts productivity.
For the longest time, anxiety was a very personal experience for me. It was my burden to bear, it was my journey to walk. I never considered how my behavior or the environment I designed could subsequently affect the anxiety of others. Baker’s story made me realize that anxiety goes well- beyond my existence.
Looking Beyond the Self – The Impact of Anxiety Within the Workplace
Anxiety is a collective experience in the workplace. Everyone plays a part in policies, and relationships which either foster a safe working space or hinder it. This is especially true for underrepresented employees.
Many, like Baker, know intimately how an unsafe environment can influence personal wellbeing, and ultimately the ability to do a good job. Based on this personal story of anxiety in the workplace, her TED talk focuses on how we can all design safer work environments. She pushes tech companies to “Build environments that are psychologically safe, and that remove stress. So that our coworkers, our teammates, can come in every day and be happy and be productive and thrive.”
Angela Ceberano and “Be The Warrior Not The Worrier – Fighting Anxiety & Fear”
Angela Ceberano has taken her project-tackling expertise in the PR business and applied it to her anxiety. It’s a method I hope to replicate in my own life. As a naturally anxious person, I can relate to much of Ceberano story. Like me, she admits she was born anxious, and outside of her professional life, she has struggled with the effects of constant worry throughout her life.
She finds herself worrying about the past, present, and future, even about the initial invitation to TED. Feeling anxious was as natural to her, as excitement is to others. She explains how fear and anxiety is easy. It’s so natural and comfortable, that few of us confront it.
I appreciate how comfortable anxiety is. It’s definitely much easier to hide behind this shield than to break through it. The unknown is a terrifying concept to an anxious person. Ceberano explains what worrying really means through a series of statistics:
- 40 percent of our worries never happen
- 30 percent of our fears are about the past
- 12 percent are about the lives of others
- 10 percent concern possible illness.
What does that leave? Only 8 percent of what we worry about is likely to happen. For someone who tends to worry 100 percent of the time, that statistic spoke to me. How much of my time do I waste thinking about potentials which will never come about?
Be a Fear Fighter in The Fear Project
In her talk, Ceberano shares how she has begun to tackle her issues with anxiety piece by piece. She recognized her ability to work through her anxiety while on the job, and brought this approach to her personal life. She calls it the Fear Project and has given herself the job of lead “Fear Fighter.”
In the Fear Project, she first wanted to tackle her fear of speaking in front of a camera. In her PR business, she constantly pushes others into the limelight but struggled with the thought of putting it on herself. She thought, what better way to conquer this fear than to start a Youtube Channel. She did, and she now has hundreds of thousands of views.
By tackling her fear as a project, something she was already familiar with from a professional perspective, she overcame it. Ceberano advises us all the look at our fear and “Take it on like a warrior.” By confronting her on-camera anxiety and powering through a project, she has found immense happiness. I am already considering some of my own significant worries and how can I reframe them through a project-based approach.
Jordan Raskopoulos and “Living With High Functioning Anxiety”
Another TEDx talk hitting very close to home for me, as I am also a high functioning anxious person. Jordan Raskopoulos, as TEDx describes explains, is a Youtube Juggernaut. A comedian, a musician, and a digital content creator from Australia, she is almost always on stage or in front of a digital audience. Her relationship with anxiety is remarkably similar to what I have experienced, and it’s comforting to hear it articulated so clearly.
If you have ever thought that the standard assumptions about anxiety don’t accurately describe your diagnosis, Raskopoulous presentation is well worth checking out. She doesn’t connect with the stereotypes. She is confident, funny, and warm on stage in front of thousands of people, but at parties and in conversation she is a “timid, bumbling wreck who is often lost for words.”
The assumption about anxious people is that we are scared all the time, about everything. But I stand behind what Raskopoulous says. This representation of worried people isn’t always accurate.
Often, we are scared only some of the time, or in particular circumstances, or with certain people. She is terrified of the phone, emails, and events where she doesn’t know anyone but powerful on stage. You don’t often hear about this type of anxiety.
Anxiety is Exhausting, Leaving No Room To Socialize
I find Raskopoulos detailed explanation of situational anxiety refreshing. If you have ever gone to a party and faced a wall of fear, you’ll love her example of what she experiences. She tells us that by spending all her energy worrying about what others think or how to respond, she has little mental capacity left for other tasks – including socializing at parties.
Just like me, Raskopoulos never relaxes. She finds it hard to stop doing, and must always keep busy. In the quiet moments is when her anxiety festers. Just like Ceberano highlighted, it’s far easier to keep on the same anxious path than it is to approach it from a different angle. Raskopoulos admits she would rather keep busy, than address the fears head-on.
In a way, Raskopoiulos uses her time in front of the thousands of attendees at her TEDx talk like a therapy session. She explores how her high-functioning anxiety has affected her life, examines the opinions of others, and tries to put a positive spin on the circumstances. Is there a way to approach your mental health issues in a safe environment and to see the positive?
3 Important Takeaways from the Best TED talks on Anxiety
Based on my experience over the last few years, adapting to my diagnosis, knowledge has become my power. First I learned what anxiety is, then I learned about the underlying causes, and finally adopted new skills to keep my fear at bay.
Even when I think I know everything about this disorder, I find out more. What have these three TED Talk presenters taught me about my battle with anxiety? One of the biggest takeaways was just their ability to communicate their experience in a way that resonated with me. Anxiety is still a taboo subject, and most people try to hide it instead of speak openly about it. Hearing powerful women talk about their journey, changed the way I feel about mine.
1. Anxiety Manifests in Different Ways for Different People
Raskopoulos, in particular, was groundbreaking. I identify with her detailed description of fear and anxiety, in a way I have never felt before. It was refreshing to hear about different types of worry. To hear how someone so open and loud in certain situations can suddenly become reserved and afraid in others help break down some stereotypes in the room. Mental illness manifests in different ways for different people, and it’s nice to have a new perspective.
2. Apply Your Talents in a Project-Based Approach to Breaking Down Fear
Ceberano’s presentation ran with this unconventional approach to anxiety and developed a solution. How can I, as a high function anxious person, overcome it? Her Fear Project took her professional expertise and applied it towards her personal struggle. How can you do the same? Take your skills as a mother, a manager, a designer, or any other area of expertise, and use these to tackle our anxiety.
Seeing Anxiety as From A Broader Perspective
Finally, Baker’s talk demonstrated the need for us to see anxiety as not only our own issue but everyone’s issue. It’s not just about how we feel, but how we make others feel. All organizations need to work on developing a safe, comfortable and inclusive environment to reduce the anxiety of their members, especially those who are generally under-represented. Happy, safe, included members are productive members.
Just when I thought I knew everything about anxiety, these three TED talks proved there is much more to learn. These three women highlight three unique approaches to mental illness, which offer novel innovative ways to break through it. Most importantly, they each are real-life examples of how even anxious people can be successful, and influential thought leaders.