1. PERFORMANCE ANXIETY AKA STAGE FRIGHT
If you suspect you are encountering stage anxiety there are two things you should know: First, you are not alone. Here is a short list of some of the many famous performers whose lives and careers have been touched by this particular inconvenience: Adele, David Duchovny, Jonas Kaufmann, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Depp, Andrea Bocelli, Lorde, Maria Callas, Rod Stewart, Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Ella Fitzgerald , Luciano Pavarotti, Mel Gibson and the list goes on. Secondly, it is important to know that even though stage anxiety has been a problem for countless performers and artists each one has gone on to find ways to successfully decrease, manage and even eliminate it from their life and work.
Where does this idea come from?
There are many theories on the origin of stage fright ranging from it being a symptom of shyness to it being a construct of deep psychological issues and imbalances. The notion that humans are gifted yet plagued by the “fight flight or freeze” reaction is first of all associated with evolutionary biology and the idea that our early ancestors relied on natural reactions to save themselves from imminent danger; a process that set off their sympathetic nervous system to mobilizes their body to either “take flight” or “stand and fight”. In later years psychology added the notion of a totally disabling freeze response to explain why some individuals, when faced by extreme fear, danger and trauma would shut down completely as to “completely freeze in their tracks”. The Oxford dictionary traces the first popular use of the words “stage fright” to 1876 in the writing of Mark Twain: Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Is it Normal?
In general, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, and more often than not it is a good thing. It motivates you to accomplish tasks and get things done, it warns you when you’re in a danger and informs you when to be attentive and vigilant. However, highly intense, excessive and debilitating anxiety; the type of stress you cannot turn off, will lead to complex emotional, psychological and physical problems.
What Happens in Performance Anxiety?
It manifests at moments when you are focusing more on yourself and / or worrying about an upcoming performance. It may appear suddenly without any apparent trigger or reason or it may be very structured and increase through an obvious and deliberate pattern. Performance anxiety can happen in a moment and at any point in your performance, it can happen only one time, it can intermittently return, it may return continuously; it can happen even when you away from the stage; at its worst it can develop into a full time obsession. Performance anxiety is a state of mind (and body) where you begin to think and react to the performance situation as a threat and it becomes an impediment to your work.
It has three parts: 1. A somatic reaction; a physical response such as your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your heart pounds and blood pressure rises, your muscles get tight, cold, clammy hands etc. etc. 2. A cognitive reaction: where a mental response to the situation conjures and floods your head with negative thoughts, self-doubt, worries of failure and mistakes and an overall loss of focus and control 3. An affective reaction or emotional response to the situation that bring on feelings of fear, panic, and apprehension. Most often, one goes through an extended periods of discomfort. This however, this will be different from person to person as each one of us have our own particular cognitive and affective responses. In short, how one person reacts psychologically and responds emotionally will be completely different than what another experiences. This personal difference can complicate the initial diagnosis and makes treatment highly individualized. Some Examples of somatic (physical) reactions:nervousness before or during a performance,sense of paralysis,dizziness, diarrhea,vomiting, Examples of extreme cognitive reactions: the audience is conspiring against me, no matter what I do something is rigged to fail, I am cursed, Examples of extreme affective reactions: isolation, substance dependence and abuse, depression, irrational behavior,uncontrolled emotional outbursts.
What are the Consequences?
At its worst, performance anxiety can cause very talented and gifted artists to retire their career, however this likelihood is rare. Many have put their careers on hold (some for decades) to deal with anxiety. On the other hand, many keep on and find ways to cope accepting such distress as part of the job. Usually one finds support and help after an extended period time, when they can’t take it any more or it has spiraled out of control and close to ruining their career; most often people find help after deciding the things they are doing are not really fixing the problem.
How does Recovery and Healing Work?
It is essential to take a pro-active break from the cycle of practice, travel and performance. During this break you may want to look for support, take some time to review and articulate what exactly is going on and start learning and practicing relaxation techniques; things that will, at the very least, offer you some perspective and start you towards a change. At some point, you will have to decide about either getting professional help or going it alone with self- help. Once again, people react to anxiety in different ways and so too they cope in different ways – all of this is case-by-case and symptom-by-symptom and no two people are the same. In some cases self- help books, YouTube videos and whatever else one can cobble together will work, while for other cases a more directed relaxation practice may help, and others may need a personal coach and in some cases counselling or even therapy.
Some Simple Techniques to Practice
Be Prepared: It gives you something to offer others
Harness it: Tension in small portions can help lift you to your best
Take action:It moves you to a different place and gives you some control
Focus on your material and work: What you focus on manifests in the present moment
Breathe deeply, visualize, meditate: Relaxation replaces fear
Practice Mindfulness: It keeps you in the present and not focused on the past or future
Carry amulets and crystals: Use them to absorb bad energy and generate good energy
Have a ritual: It gives you a place to start, a pattern to follow a place to hold as your own
Honor your time on stage: It’s communion with others and all about sharing your best.