Three years ago, Channel Seven Brisbane newsreader Katrina Blowers was on set, ready to read the live Sunday night news bulletin. As the autocue rolled on the first story, Katrina had her first ever panic attack.
Without a co-host, she had to stay on—terrified, struggling to speak—in front of half a million people for the next hour, all while wanting to "rip out my microphone and ear piece" and find safety and space somewhere off air.
“In my mind was, ‘Do not become one of those people who goes viral on YouTube’. I had a shortness of breath, my chest felt incredibly tight, I couldn’t talk properly," says Katrina, who was so ashamed by what she saw as a failure in herself that it took her two days to tell her partner about the panic attack.
The mother-of-two told me her very personal story—one of the first times she's shared it publicly—in Perspectives podcast 'Claiming My Confidence', a conversation that made me respect her, laugh a lot and even tell Katrina I saw parallels between our lives and experiences.
In the months after her terrible, isolating experience Katrina was triggered by being at work, and subsequent panic attacks nearly saw her leave the beloved job she’d worked towards since she was seven. But she tenaciously decided to fight her corner, and used science and therapy to rebuild her life and kickstart a new business, Claiming Your Confidence, to help people banish nerves and play a "bigger" game.
“The thing about confidence is that up until that point I had thought it was my super power," Katrina, who feels ignoring stress from a divorce and the motherhood guilt she had around that contributed to her situation, told me.
"I just took it for granted, so to have this fundamental knock to my confidence and have to learn it all over again … it's taken me just over three years but I'm happy to report that I'm back, I'm good now, and I’m getting to teach other women what I’ve learned which is great.”
I was interested in how Katrina defines confidence—for me, it's that confidence is outward facing, certainty is inward generating—and we talked the differences between confidence and competence.
Katrina says she has discovered there’s a confidence gap between the genders with women placing a higher degree of importance on competence. “Even though I knew I was competent at my job I had lost the confidence to demonstrate that competence outwardly, or believe in it within myself, whereas men feel confident even if they don’t feel competent at doing something," she said.
For the longtime presenter, “Confidence comes down to now being okay with being outside my comfort one and living a life with no regrets and following my dreams and knowing that no matter what situation I put myself in, I’m going to be okay.”
Asked what turned things around, Katrina realised early on “that just me making a decision to change wasn’t enough. I had to get really comfortable with feeling nervous for the first time and having stage fright.”
She thought, 'I can show other people that confidence is a muscle you can build, you just need to know the right techniques. You don’t need to live a life of regret. That is a huge value of mine. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret anything.”
She leant “heavily” into the research, believing as a journalist that science would have an answer in the shape of evidence-based strategies. She saw a psychologist specialising in stage fright and worked on strategies for coping when she felt fear in her body.
“There are things you can do to dissipate that cortisol or adrenalin. One is by movement, so before I read the news I would go to the gym and do a really heavy workout, when I was at my news desk and started to feel those butterflies I would swing my legs from side to side or turn from side to side to dissipate that nervous energy.”
She also started meditating to find out if the stories she’d told herself until then about achieving held true: “I’m lucky I have such a big driver. I make an appointment with myself every single day, set my alarm for 5.30, I meditate then I journal and then I do ask myself all of those big questions.”
"Blessed" with a "playful" partner who has helped her try to find joy in daily life rather than just being on a hamster wheel, Katrina also looked into the “science of body language” and “how holding powerful confidence postures it sends a signal to your brain that you’re perhaps more confident than you’re feeling.
"I’ve become so much more mindful of how I carry myself.”
I really identify with what Katrina shared about the role she played during her life of the person who can do anything and do it brilliantly, who never needs support but will readily give it out to others.
Sometimes I have anxiety around, I think, belonging, or something around when I need to be the hero. I’m addicted to wanting to be the hero, so what I’m doing is sitting with the feeling and saying it’s okay to be the way I’m feeling.
If we deny emotions we’re denying aspects of ourselves. So me sitting with discomfort, anxiety or sadness has been very important in my own journey of reclaiming me.
I’m now less self conscious about not being heroic which is just fabulous. I redefined how I teach based on how I grew, and Katrina seem to have done that in her professional life as well.
“A really big breakthrough has been that confidence is not the absence of fear," she says.
"I know now I can feel fearful or nervous or like an imposter in some situations and still be confident. It’s having the duality of those emotions and being okay with both.”
What struck her was feedback from women at events who would ask Katrina the secret to her confidence when she was feeling that was a facade. She did one on one work with women CEOs who were “plagued by the same self doubt and insecurity I was.”
Katrina also has fabulous advice for parents of young teenagers around social media, which is another workshop she offers online. You'll love her strategies for actually getting through to them about the need to protect themselves online, now and for their future lives.
There will be so many people who can relate to Katrina's experience who will be intrigued and gratified to know the person who presents so beautifully and perfectly on camera is human, vulnerable and still living her dream.
That message is everything. As we live our dream, despite appearances we never have our shit together.