When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Alex Kiester found herself battling severe anxiety. But it wasn’t directly related to the pandemic—it was tied to communication issues, she says. In the past, the professional writer had struggled mightily with anxiety over public speaking, an anxiety so distressful that it prompted multiple panic attacks on a daily basis. That’s what spurred Kiester to join Toastmasters three years ago, leading to a dramatic transformation, her fears abating as she gained a sense of confidence and control.
The young Texan was initially preoccupied with making sure her family was healthy and safe when the pandemic first emerged. Her participation in Toastmasters lapsed.
“And then I started noticing I was having my old severe anxiety, which had nothing to do with the pandemic—it was specifically about communicating with other people, and I was experiencing it in a way I had never experienced it before, like in virtual meetings with my clients, even with some friends,” says Kiester. “And I thought, Oh, man, I’ve got to get back to Toastmasters.
“So I went back, and I’m not exaggerating: After that first meeting back on Zoom, it was night and day. It was a complete shift in my mental health and my confidence level. I was like, Oh, yeah, I’m in control again.”
Kiester, the author of a published novel and another one to be released in early 2022, believes it’s important to talk openly about topics like anxiety, to erase any stigmas that might exist around mental health issues. A member of two clubs in Austin, Texas, she says she’s grateful for the impact Toastmasters has had on her life the past few years. (Her mom is a Toastmaster too.)
“I wax poetic about Toastmasters all the time,” says Kiester. “I truthfully say Toastmasters saved my life.”