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Anxiety, Imposter Syndrome, and Public Speaking with Dr. Matthew Chow

Episode 63|26:27 min|

Stigma, Workplace, Adult,

Dr. Matthew Chow talks anxiety and imposter syndrome on the #OurAnxietyStories podcast. This image features a quote from him with the podcast's logo.

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Dr. Matthew Chow talks anxiety and imposter syndrome on the #OurAnxietyStories podcast. This image features a quote from him with the podcast's logo.
#OurAnxietyStories – The Anxiety Canada Podcast
Anxiety, Imposter Syndrome, and Public Speaking with Dr. Matthew Chow

About the episode

Navigating imposter syndrome and public speaking can increase feelings of anxiety for many. When listening to Dr. Matthew Chow, a confident and articulate public speaker, some may be surprised to learn that he deeply understands the overlap of anxiety, fear of public speaking, and imposter syndrome.

In this episode of #OurAnxietyStories, Mark Antczak, Anxiety Canada’s in-house clinical counsellor, engages in a thought-provoking discussion with Dr. Matthew Chow, Chief Mental Health Officer at TELUS Health. Dr. Chow brings a wealth of experience and insight, drawing from his extensive healthcare background, which includes specialization in child and adolescent psychiatry. With a personal mission to empower individuals to show up as their best, authentic selves, Dr. Chow shares candidly about his own experiences with anxiety, offering valuable perspectives on the anxiety recovery journey.

Mark and Dr. Chow delve into the intersectionality of anxiety and imposter syndrome, particularly in high-pressure environments and work spaces. Dr. Chow covers how imposter syndrome can manifest, especially in roles requiring public speaking, drawing from his experiences. He emphasizes the importance of self-compassion and reaching out for support; he also highlights the value of accessing mental health resources and being open about challenges at work.

Managing anxiety and imposter syndrome at work can include self-assessment techniques and prioritizing constructive feedback, while leaders can foster psychological safety in the workplace. Dr. Chow shed light on TELUS Health’s proactive approach to mental health, offering a range of resources and initiatives that aim to break down stigma and prevent excessive anxiety. He stresses that preventing challenges is key: “It’s not just about supporting people when they’ve fallen down, or when they’re suffering, or when they’re having difficulty coping. It’s also about breaking down stigma, preventing challenges and issues in the first place, having psychologically safe workplaces in the first place, so that people can be themselves and mitigate against anxiety.”

Dr. Chow also discusses how feedback at work, in life, and on social media can cause a great deal of distress. He highlights the importance of identifying and cherishing helpful feedback. He shares that feedback from somebody that cares about you and “your personal growth and development,” is important, as that person “will deliver that feedback in such a way that helps you, rather than hurts you.”

Whether grappling with anxiety, imposter syndrome, fear of public speaking, or simply seeking to foster a healthier workplace environment, this episode is valuable for those navigating complex issues with resilience and authenticity. Dr. Chow’s words can help empower you to overcome challenges, cultivate self-compassion, and thrive in your personal and professional life.

If you’re seeking confidential, one-on-one support for issues in your personal or professional life, TELUS Health MyCare, a free-to-download app, can help! See a doctor, counsellor, psychologist, or dietitian from your phone (available in select provinces). For a limited time: Thanks to our exciting joint sponsorship, you can book up to two no-cost virtual counselling appointments through the TELUS Health MyCare app. Learn more here.

About the Guest

Dr Matthew Chow is the Chief Mental Health Officer at TELUS Health, a global health and wellbeing company serving nearly 70 million people across 160 countries. Dr. Chow’s personal mission is to enable people and teams to make their highest and best possible contributions as authentic human beings. Dr. Chow is a past president of Doctors of British Columbia (2020-21) and was the founding medical director of e-Mental Health Services and Strategy at British Columbia Children’s Hospital. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in the specialty of Psychiatry with further sub-specialization in the field of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

"There are ... literally millions and millions of people around the world that also experience anxiety, that have had similar experiences as you, who wake up every day and cope with this and struggle and recover and do well with it as well. So some self-compassion is in order."

- Dr. Matthew Chow

This podcast is brought to you by Anxiety Canada™, a leader in developing free, online self-help and evidence-based anxiety resources. For more information and resources, please visit our website and download our app, MindShift™ CBT.


Intro: This is #OurAnxietyStories, the Anxiety Canada podcast. This is the place where people from all walks of life share their anxiety stories to remind you that you are not alone. If you have an anxiety story you’d like to share, contact us at 

Mark Antczak: Hi, I’m Mark Antczak and you’re listening to Our Anxiety Stories, the Anxiety Canada podcast that could be found on or any of the other major streaming platforms. My guest today is Dr. Matthew Chow, who is the Chief Mental Health Officer at TELUS Health, a global leading health and wellbeing company serving nearly 70 million people across 160 countries. Dr. Chow is a past president of Doctors of British Columbia and was the founding medical director of e-Mental Health Services and Strategy at BC Children’s Hospital. He is a psychiatry fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Canada, and a specialty of child and adolescent psychiatry. Welcome, Matt. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Hi, Mark. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mark Antczak: I am so excited to have this chat with you today because you bring such a rich and unique perspective with just how influential your role is and the background on mental health. So why don’t we start with the obvious question, which is the title of our podcast. What is your anxiety story?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Wow, where do I begin? I’ve actually been dealing with anxiety most of my life, at least since I was eight years old. It started with generalized anxiety, then I started getting panic attacks when I was attending university. You couple that with social anxiety, as well as some profound fear of public speaking, which I’m going to speak a little bit more about later on, but such a profound fear that I almost threw up on one of my classmates when I was asked to do a speech in front of our whole high school.

And so that was certainly one of the more memorable moments when I realized, “Okay, this is getting to be a bit of an issue.” And so continuing to muddle through and deal with that eventually before getting help, getting support and going on a bit of a recovery journey from anxiety and now being able to talk to you about anxiety today, and hopefully help lots of other folks out there that are also dealing with this issue.

Mark Antczak: I mean, such a full-circle moment. It sounds like it’s been something that you’ve been navigating for a sizable chunk of time. Where do you feel you are along that journey at this point in time?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Anxiety is one of those things that, even as you overcome it and recover from it, there’s still shades of it there. And the shades of it that I get are when I am in a public speaking role, or position when I have to present to a huge group of people, when I’m doing a podcast like this, and also in terms of just sometimes feeling like, “Wow, did I really make it? Did I really overcome this?” And then I realized after doing enough of this that, “Yeah. Actually, I really have come a really long way, especially upon reflection.” So I can say I feel very comfortable with where I am and who I am today along that anxiety recovery journey. I know that each and every one of us who deals with anxiety is capable of achieving that kind of recovery journey as well.


Mark Antczak: I mean, so much of what this podcast even is about is being able to highlight folks in positions such as yours, folks that have such high responsibilities, such high achievements, and to be able to say, you know what? This is quite normal. This is a thing that a lot of people deal with. And I know in our previous chat you had mentioned that one of your personal mission statements is, “To enable people and teams to make their highest and best possible contributions as authentic human beings.” I’m just curious, with that one in mind, which barriers have you observed that might prevent people from reaching that goal? But in particular, in the workplace, you had mentioned imposter syndrome.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, so imposter syndrome is certainly something that a lot of folks deal with, and it’s interesting, imposter syndrome seems to have no bounds. I see people feeling like they’re imposters when they’re recovering from or dealing with anxiety. I also see very highly successful folks, very self-confident folks, also dealing with a degree of imposter syndrome. So, going back to some of those barriers that prevent us from being the very, very best, some of them are systemic factors.

So if you’re in a group of folks that don’t see yourself reflected in leadership, don’t see yourself reflected in that new risky and challenging and yet rewarding activity that you’re thinking of doing, you’re going to have more of that imposter syndrome, more of that difficulty moving forward.

Then there’s also internal factors. If you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, if you’re getting panic attacks, if you’re like me and you had this profound fear of social speaking, that gets in the way as well and those are certainly barriers that we want to see addressed.

Then particularly in the workplace. These days, there’s high-pressure environments all around. I’m a healthcare worker. Healthcare is really hard right now, but that could be said of a lot of different industries. Anyone that works in the travel industry knows that that’s hard right now. Anyone that works in manufacturing or any job that really has to be done in person, they’ve never let up. Even during the pandemic, they were going to work every day and sometimes facing huge risks. And so for someone that’s dealing with anxiety, that poses a barrier too.

And I hate to say it, but still a little bit, even in this day and age, a little bit of stigma still there. A little bit of stigma around anxiety, a little bit of misunderstanding of what mental illness and mental recovery looks like. And in some workplaces still this feeling that, you know what? I’ve got to keep up with everybody else and I don’t want to let on that I’m struggling with this issue because I don’t want to look like the weakest link. So all of those factors combined.

Mark Antczak: Yeah, it’s that constant fight or flight. Am I doing enough? Am I proving my worth? Am I able to showcase that I’m bringing something valuable, or am I going to get in trouble for not showing up in the way that I need to? It’s making a lot of those comparisons I hear a lot of folks making.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, and part of what feeds into that is sometimes this tendency to measure people’s worth by what they put out, what their productive output is. And certainly that’s part of what’s important about what we do at work, but that’s not everything, right? We also have intrinsic value as human beings. We also have intrinsic value regardless of what our level of performance is and that’s really important as well. I find, certainly in my own experience, something that drives anxiety or drags it up from the depths, is when I start leaning too far into that; my measure of worth is what I put out, versus my measure of worth is that I’m a worthwhile human being to begin with, that’s worthy and deserving of respect and love and support regardless and then starting from that frame of reference.

Mark Antczak: It really reminds me of a lot of the conversations I have with my own patients in practice, just talking about self-compassion and that notion that we really do have to practice being kind to ourselves because of that external validation that we get through accomplishments or through what it is that we achieve. It sounds like you will often, or sometimes will oscillate, to that end of the spectrum where you notice yourself going to that point of, “Oh, I should be doing more. Am I enough?” How do you gauge when you’ve gone too far to one end of the spectrum or the other?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. I mean, I’ve become keenly aware of when I’m edging into that danger territory of devaluing myself and having that negative sense, or maladaptive sense of self-worth start to crop up. Some of the warning signs that I look out for is first off, I check in with my body. So, as a person that’s dealt with anxiety, I know how anxiety feels like in my body. And for a lot of us, it’s in our stomach. It’s causing us headaches, causing us to have difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating. It’s that tenseness that starts to develop in our muscles, and so I’m keenly aware of my bodily reactions to anxiety.

I’m also keenly aware of my psychological reactions to anxiety. When I start to feel that imposter syndrome propping up, am I good enough? Are people thinking that I’m the weakest link? Am I producing enough? Am I being good enough? And those are more warning signs that okay, starting to edge into that danger zone.

And funny enough, a lot of this, I think people outside of me don’t notice. And having interviewed, just like you have, many people that have dealt with anxiety, as anxiety sufferers, we’re always acutely aware of how we’re feeling and sometimes thinking that other people notice it as well. And when I’ve asked almost invariably, people say, “Well, I didn’t notice that you were anxious at all.” That’s interesting to note that.

Mark Antczak: I resonate with that so strongly because the amount of times I’ve had someone really point out that incongruence between what I felt and what they saw almost seems like a predictable pattern. The things that you’re noting sounds almost like these red flag markers, some based in cognitions or our thoughts, that negative self-talk. And it sounds like some of those behaviors or those physiological sensations in our body very much resonate with that same piece, where my nails might get bit a little too often, or I might just get chronic stomach aches. Going off this piece of performance and imposter syndrome, I’m curious with respect to the public speaking that’s required in your role. Can you tell us a little bit about the intersectionality between how imposter syndrome impacts your ability to do public speaking and how do those two influence each other?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Well, yeah, I mean, I was reminded recently that public speaking’s actually hard for most people. I was giving a talk and I asked this room of very accomplished leaders, folks that have led projects, lead big teams, have responsibility for millions and millions of dollars, “How many of you actually enjoy public speaking?” And I think 2 people put up their hands in a room of more than 50. So that reminded me, public speaking is actually pretty hard.

And then you add on top of that if you’re someone that already experiences that imposter syndrome, meaning that you feel like you don’t deserve to be there. You feel like you don’t deserve those accolades. You believe you don’t deserve that promotion. You believe that you don’t deserve to be where you are, and now you’re being asked to speak 50 people, 100 people, 500 people, 1000 people or more, and those two things really collide that imposter syndrome and this fear of public speaking. And that’s been my experience, especially as I go into more and more prominent and public roles. The President of Doctors of BC certainly was one of those very public roles. It happened during the pandemic, so that made it extra public and certainly the role that I’m in now, there’s certainly the intersection between imposter syndrome and the fear of public speaking.

But I’ll tell you what, realizing that other people feel it too, no matter how high performing they are. I had a colleague confide in me recently that when they had to give a talk in front of something like 1500 or 2000 people, that was nerve wracking for them. You know what? I’ll tell you, if you ask any of the 1500 or so people that listened to this person speak, they didn’t notice this person skipping a beat. It was a flawless performance. But this person shared with me, and this is someone that I, would say, is a very highly confident and self-assured individual that, “Hey, this is actually a difficult thing to do.” And so that self-compassion comes in, that like, “Oh, you know what? I guess that’s okay that I feel some of that angst as well. It just means that this is something that’s important to me.”

Mark Antczak: Yeah, no. Well, they talk about the Yerkes-Dodson Curve in research where a little bit of anxiety typically could really enhance performance because it motivates us, it galvanizes us, but too much of it could impede performance. But it seems like a lot of us with imposter syndrome really go to that end of the spectrum where we think we’re so stressed that we just don’t think we can perform. But that clearly doesn’t seem to be the case more often than not.

Dr. Matthew Chow: I love how you put that a certain degree of anxiety is expected. Certainly when I’ve worked with patients over the years, something I’ve had to deal with is sometimes folks have an expectation that I want to be completely anxiety-free, and I’m like, “Well, are you sure you want that?”

Because too much anxiety absolutely causes suffering. It causes physical suffering, causes psychological suffering, it makes it hard to get through the day. But an appropriate amount of anxiety can actually be, as you point out, something that’s actually adaptive, something that’s helpful. Especially if it’s something that we’ve learned to cope with and deal with and actually turn that energy into something that’s positive. So yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a great reminder to folks that the aim of the game might not necessarily be to completely eliminate this normal human experience that we have, all of us, have some degree of anxiety, but rather to harness that energy and to turn it into something useful. And certainly if it’s something that’s excessive, and certainly my experience when I was younger was that it was excessive levels of anxiety to deal with that and to get help when you need it to deal with that.

Mark Antczak: Absolutely. One of the questions I really want to ask just around the imposter syndrome, given how public the roles are that you are currently in and have been in, I imagine any constructive criticism or even just people giving their opinions that are counter to what you might be sharing, it’s extra hard. I know that I’ve experienced that a number of times where someone might disagree or disagree with an opinion you have. How have you found that process for you, or how have you found your ability to disengage from that or create some separation from that piece?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, I mean, I certainly got a crash course in how to deal with that during the pandemic, because interviews I would do about COVID-19 or the vaccination program [that] would go viral and a lot of people would see it. I’d get messaged about it. Invariably and unfortunately, and I got it, I would say, a lot less than other very, very prominent folks, but unfortunately, that feedback came back fast and furious and wasn’t always positive. So, I got a crash course and learning how to deal with that, because although some of the feedback was helpful, some of it was just really quite negative, toxic, hostile and not particularly life giving.

So, what I learned to do is, first off, make my own self-evaluation of how I did before I even read the comments. Some people say, “Don’t even read the comments. Don’t even read that stuff at all.” And you know what? I get where they’re coming from when they say that. Maybe I should try that out sometime. But certainly doing a self-assessment of how I did and then reading into it and then realizing, sometimes, especially for very negative and critical feedback, that’s more a reflection of the person sharing it than it is of yourself and your own performance. And really taking that to heart has been helpful, to help me be more objective about what that feedback is.

I’ve also realized that not all feedback’s equal. Feedback that comes from people that care about you, that want you to grow as a human being, that want you to be better, I’ll take that feedback a million times over feedback from some random troll on social media. I mean, that kind of random feedback’s pretty meaningless really, on the face of it. But feedback from somebody that, and I really want to emphasize this point, feedback from someone that cares about you, cares about your personal growth and development, that’s gold. That is so important, and that person will deliver that feedback in such a way that helps you, rather than hurts you.

Mark Antczak: Absolutely.

Dr. Matthew Chow: That, I think, for any of us, whether we deal with anxiety or not, whether we deal with imposter syndrome or not, whether we deal with a fear of public speaking or not, I think is so crucial, is to separate out that truly constructive and useful feedback, versus what’s basically noise.

Mark Antczak: Yeah. It’s such a great way of putting it. I’ve had someone once introduce to me that reading comments is shopping for pain, because you’re basically going online and you’re looking at a lot of keyboard warriors or a lot of folks without any identity or without any kind of backings, just sharing like, really unproductive and toxic type commentary.

Dr. Matthew Chow: A hundred percent. Yeah. People say things online that they would never dare say to you in person face to face.

Mark Antczak: Absolutely.

Dr. Matthew Chow: So yeah, absolutely. Especially for someone dealing with anxiety, that toxic negativity online, on social media, is not something that’s mandatory. Right? You can turn that off. You can step away from that. At one point, actually, I realized deleting social media apps from my phone was probably one of the best and most helpful things that I did for myself. I still check in on social media, I still use it, but intensive, excessive use was not particularly helpful on the anxiety recovery journey.

Mark Antczak: Absolutely. Yeah, just it turns into an echo chamber, just falling into those Instagram comas. One of the final pieces here that I’m curious to hear about, so we’ve been talking a little bit about how we manage imposter syndrome in the workplace. Do you have any kind of specific strategies that you would encourage folks to implement if they’re facing that really prominent anxiety, if they feel like they’re not enough, and if there’s any TELUS initiatives that you’d like to share as well around those pieces?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, self-compassion, I think, is so crucial. We talked about it earlier. I think that’s the first step is realizing that, “Hey, you’re not alone.” There are a lot of people around the world, literally millions and millions and millions of people around the world, that also experience anxiety, that have had similar experiences as you, who wake up every day and cope with this and struggle and recover and do well with it as well. So, some self-compassion, I think, is in order.

Reaching out for help. There’s been a real awakening about the importance of mental health and well-being, and so in most employed spaces now, people have access to services benefits. That’s something that TELUS Health is really proud to provide to so many people around the world, but accessing those services and benefits to get help and support for your mental health and well-being to overcome anxiety is so crucial. That’s something that I accessed, those kind of supports when I was recovering from this, and it made such a difference.

Letting people know, letting your co-workers know, letting your manager know that you’re experiencing this issue. The number of times that people have told me that they’ve done that and then found so much help and support and realization that they were not alone is heartwarming. Certainly for the leaders out there and the influencers out there, be vocal about this.

At our company, even our most senior leaders are very transparent and open about dealing with mental health issues, and that creates a level of trust and respect and willingness to support one another and get help, that is just so crucial, I think, to making the workplace a more safe and vibrant place and to help individuals who are experiencing anxiety. That’s so helpful. I mean, in terms of what my organization is doing, breaking open the black box that is anxiety and talking to people about it. Participating on a podcast like this is part of what we do, to show our awareness of mental health. We track people’s anxiety across the workplace, across the whole world, through something called the Mental Health Index that we publish monthly. And so from that Mental Health Index, we were actually able to demonstrate to governments, policymakers, employers, employees, the general public, that anxiety is a real thing. It’s actually growing as an issue. And so we build awareness about that and the importance of getting help.

Then we provide a lot of services and help to people. We provide counseling services to people. We provide self-guided therapy to people. We provide coaching to people to overcome this. We coach workplaces and employers on how they can make their workplace a healthier environment, not just to help people with anxiety, but to prevent it in the first place and to mitigate against mental health and well-being challenges overall. And we’re strongly encouraged that we’re seeing people really take that up, whether it’s governments, whether it’s workplaces, really taking up that challenge to address this issue, to normalize it, to be self-compassionate about it, but also to render help and support when it’s required to help people be their very best.

Mark Antczak: I’m really hearing a mix of not just a reactive approach. You’re offering a ton of resources that otherwise aren’t typically there, but you’re also offering a really proactive approach where you’re trying to have folks think about this stuff ahead of time, where allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with one another so we can have these conversations so we can destigmatize and address any issues as they come up, rather than leaving them once they’re really, really hard to handle.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, I’m glad you picked up on that. That’s something that we’re really proud of, and I hope more and more organizations pick this up, is that it’s not just about supporting people when they’ve fallen down, or when they’re suffering, or when they’re having difficulty coping. It’s also about breaking down stigma, preventing challenges and issues in the first place, having psychologically safe workplaces in the first place so that people can be themselves and mitigate against anxiety. It’s about leadership and transparency and demonstrating that these are important issues that we can support one another with, and it’s about people who have experienced recovery or are still along their anxiety journey to be able to share about that and to give hope and optimism to folks that are still experiencing a lot of difficulty to let them know that help and support is at hand and it’s effective, and that it can change your life and help you be your very best.

Mark Antczak: Yeah. Truly, thank you. Thank you so, so much for coming on today. I think the perspective, again, is just so rich and the work that you do is so important. We’re really trying to adjust the foundations. We’re really trying to aim for a paradigm shift, and I can’t wait to see where TELUS goes with that, so thank you for joining us today. Yeah, I hope we get to chat again sometime soon.

Dr. Matthew Chow: So glad to be able to share today. Thank you, Mark.

Mark Antczak: Awesome. Thank you. Take care.

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