Performance anxiety: What is it and how can we overcome it?

“The things that make me different are the things that make me, me” – Piglet

Barbara Streisand, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry, just a few examples of famous performers who suffer from performance anxiety. Performance anxiety, more commonly known as stage fright, is very common and it is not something to be ashamed of. I suffer with performance anxiety surrounding singing and gradually over time I am making progress and working on moving on from this, developing my confidence and vocal ability. There are many reasons that a performer may experience anxiety and it differs from each individual therefore, the way to overcome it varies too. In this issue I will provide more information about performance anxiety and some examples of methods you can try to help you develop your confidence and lower any anxieties. 

As mentioned previously, performance anxiety can vary from each individual. It can be as simple as mild nerves that create butterflies or a knot in the stomach to more extreme effects such as panic attacks. Other effects of performance anxiety can include excessive sweating, shaking, nausea, heightened blood pressure, heart palpitations, chills and increased errors during or performance or backing out all together. Also, a key point to remember is that performance anxiety has no relevance to talent and just because you experience performance anxiety and your friend does not it does not mean that one is more talented than the other. However, lack of self confidence and self esteem can heighten your anxiety. When we experience performance anxiety before a show, scene, speech or other performance, it can activate the body’s fight or flight response and the elevation in the hormone levels and adrenaline can result in a singer’s voice shaking, lines being forgotten in a scene or movements being missed. Performances make us vulnerable, we are giving everything that we have and doing what we love to share stories, emotions, statements or pure entertainment so fears of making mistakes are valid. Making mistakes is part of what makes us human, however, when we make mistakes during an event we have been nervous for it can almost confirm and warrant our fears in our minds and therefore, increasing our anxiety in the future. But how can we work towards overcoming this and live freely from our doubts?

Finding what works for you and your performance anxiety is a personal journey experienced by each individual as we are all different and all have unique reasons behind our fears. For more severe cases, a therapist can help by talking through previous experiences or events that may have resulted in the cause of the doubts. They may also help you to find what methods work for you and support you on your journey to recovery and freedom. Furthermore, simple relaxation techniques can be used such as standing in a confident pose and repeating affirmations, making eye contact with friendly, familiar faces when performing, focusing on the performance aspect rather than any doubts and visualization techniques where the positives are envisioned and believed. Other methods that have been advised are simple lifestyle changes such as getting a sufficient amount of sleep, eating a good, balanced meal before a performance, staying hydrated and reducing caffeine intake. Moreover, there are other practices you can implement into your life such as the use of oils that help to calm the body and mind, meditation and breathing exercises in which there are many online resources and books focusing on these. When discussing this matter with peers, a popular method was creating a personal pre-show ritual that gets you into the zone and prepared for your performance. This helps to calm nerves, prepare the body, get into the right headspace and focus on all of the positives rather than the negatives. Within this ritual, you can distract your mind to prevent overthinking through socializing, meditation, colouring, reading or anything else that you enjoy to do. Additionally, having an emergency kit with you before a performance is also a popular method as this helps to eliminate any fears of something going wrong or something being forgotten such as costumes mishaps, makeup errors, breakages and anything else that may keep your mind from peace. The biggest preparation method, and probably the most obvious, that is referred to the most is practice. There is no better preparation than practicing until you cannot get it wrong and developing muscle memory so that if for whatever reason your memory fails, your body can take control. 

Understanding your own performance anxiety is just as important as being able to support other performers. It is important that we can create a good support network with our peers so that we can all provide each other with what we need and cater to everyone’s needs. Acknowledging the fears of others and the importance of their performances is a crucial starting point as it is unfair to disregard their fears and make them appear irrational because everyone’s feelings are valid. Helping with and encouraging preparation and practice is also a good way to support others. Take time in a free studio or hour in your day to help them practice their material, whether that’s by helping them learn and clean choreography or allowing them to practice their songs and scenes for you. Finally, offering and asking for what would help them is important so you can cater to their needs specifically and make sure that you are being as beneficial as possible. 

To summarize, performance anxiety is valid. We should not disregard anyone’s feelings and we should not feel ashamed of our own. It is widely experienced by performers and it is something we can all work to overcome together as a supportive community. Try some of these methods that have been mentioned and see if you can work out a schedule and scheme that works for you and get you onto the road to freedom from your fears. Keep pushing, keep believing and keep following those dreams.

“Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”

Costello

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