Performance Anxiety? Embrace Your Fear!
Butterflies in your tummy, can’t sit still, feeling shaky, worried, brain paralysis, fingers stuck….all of these are symptoms of stage fright, or performance anxiety. Don’t worry…they are completely normal and experienced by everyone that ends up on stage or in front of others speaking or performing.
Think of when you’ve sprained your ankle or hurt some part of your body. What is the natural reaction of your body to injury? Inflammation. What happens though, when inflammation gets out of control? We actually get sick from too much inflammation and that’s why doctors give us medications to reduce it when it becomes chronic.
It’s the same with stage fright. It’s a normal reaction for most of us, when we have to get up in front of other people to speak or play music. It’s uncomfortable to feel all of these emotions at once, and its uncomfortable getting up in front of others, especially when we feel out of control like we do when we are afraid.
Performance anxiety is the natural “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat. The perceived “threat” is the judgement or disapproval of those that we’re addressing through our music. Just as our bodies respond to injury with inflammation, our psyches respond to the threat of rejection by either running away, or staying in place and defending oneself.
The good news is that these feelings of anxiety are natural, and are really there to protect us.
The trick is, not letting them get out of control so they interfere with what we want to accomplish while we’re on stage. There’s really nothing to protect ourselves from when we’re performing, accept our own fears of what we think others are going to think about us.
We don’t have to go to a doctor to overcome the fear of performing. There are a number of things that we can do on our own to keep stage fright minimized, so it doesn’t keep us from doing our best.
Embrace Your Fear
That’s right – embrace it. Welcome it into your life the very moment it pops up, when you’re preparing to perform in public. Remember, it is there to protect you. One of the physical benefits from fear is increased adrenaline in your bloodstream, which actually helps you focus better and more intensely.
Talk to Your Fear, Don’t Let it Talk to You
Remind fear that although you know why it’s there - you are the one in charge, and it will have to listen to what you tell it, not the other way around. Sometimes fear likes to tell us that “we can’t”, or “we’ll fail”. You can talk to these thoughts and tell them to be quiet…they aren’t helping you!
Try to remove yourself emotionally from the fear, and instead see it as something to observe. I know that sounds impossible but it really can be done, at least to some extent.
The biggest effect on us physically from fear is that we stop breathing, or we take really shallow breaths.
If we take a moment in the midst of all of those chaotic feelings and just start consciously breathing long, deep breaths, we’ll feel calmer, and we’ll have a stronger ability to step back from fear, and become less attached to it. In fact, just focusing on our breathing takes our thoughts away from the fear, and removes some of the “power” it has simply by not paying as much attention to it.
Become the Music
Remember why you are there. Music…it’s all about the music.
The more you can step into the music and think only about that, you will hear and feel fear less and less. It’s remarkable. It’s like the icing on the cake.
As soon as you get into that “zone” where you literally are immersed in the music and nothing else, fear and anything else stemming from our “ego” subsides, and all that remains is a living, breathing, incredible experience that takes you and the listeners to new places of heart and thought and possibility.
This is the ultimate goal of performing.
So remember that fear is normal and it’s something to accept, not run from. The key is keeping fear in a place that doesn’t hinder your performing, and the good news is that you can.
And…the reward is…moving past barriers that can keep us from experiencing the life expanding gifts that music brings to the performer and the listener alike.
How have you overcome performance anxiety in your own piano journey?
Let us know in the comments section!
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