Most of the general population has been there before: standing in front of a cluster, group, or crowd of people and completely freaking out. If you’re an actor, you flub a line, or if you’re a musician, you forget a couple of bars here and there (for a real-life example, famous pop singer Christina Aguilera forgot the lyrics to the National Anthem). Maybe it happens before, during, or after the fact, and the reasons can be as varied as simply being shy or fearing judgment from strangers. Regardless of the causes and details, stage fright or performance anxiety is a very real issue for those who love to perform but just can’t quite get over their personal hangups. It even affects seasoned professionals, proof that it’s not about experience with the art form, but rather about un-learning the self-destructive, parasitic thought patterns that squeeze into the mind.
So what’s a performer to do about performance anxiety? Negative self-talk is an unwelcome beast that can’t seem to be harnessed. Well, this is the first problem: you must stop thinking that it is an uncontrollable force and begin to acknowledge that you are in complete control of your mind. Nothing is holding you back but your own mind, and it is also propelling you forward at the same time.
Sound easier said than done? It is. This kind of mental control of your stream of consciousness is incredibly difficult and takes exercise, time, and patience, much like playing an instrument or dropping 20 pounds. You have to be consistent, and more importantly, you have to be self-forgiving. There will be times when negative thought patterns spiral out of control and there will be other times when you are comfortable in your own skin. Remember that habits of any kind become more engrained with time and effort.
Some techniques to help mitigate performance anxiety are the following examples. Remember that every individual may find something that works better for them – the key is to try something for long enough until it works.
- Recognize that “butterflies” and pre-performance jitters are completely normal. You need this adrenaline to play with excitement and energy. However, don’t obsess over it. Just think of it as your natural preparation before an exciting moment and put it away as you prepare to go on stage.
- Look over your score/script/whatever you used to prepare for this performance. Remind yourself that you know what you’re about to be doing.
- Be on time. The best thing you can do for yourself before a performance is reduce any added stress. Sometimes life inevitably presents a last-minute challenge, and though sometimes you can’t avoid them, you can do your best to be kind to yourself by allowing adequate time before a performance.
- Eat right. Bananas have natural beta blockers which help calm shaky nerves. Fruit, light salads, and yogurt are other great pre-performance meal options that aren’t difficult to digest and give you enough (but not too much!) energy. Always remember to eat something!
- Visualize the performance. You’ve practiced it countless times in the privacy of your own home or room. You clearly can do it – it’s all up there! Close your eyes, breathe deeply to counts of ten, and see yourself giving the performance.
- Remember that no one is there to judge you. You are surrounded by friends and supporters who are there to enjoy your art form. And if there are indeed judges, they aren’t there to bash you to shreds, but to offer helpful advice. No ill-willed critics should be of any consequence to you.
- Create practice sessions that mimic performances. Although practicing in the venue would be ideal, you can create a performance-like setting by inviting a couple of family members or friends over who don’t normally hear you practice every day. This creates a similar mental reaction and allows you a chance to practice healthy mental preparation techniques.
After a performance, no matter what happened, remember that it’s over and that you no longer have any control over the past. Instead of dwelling on what you could have done, try to emphasize what you did well and how you can incorporate better mental, physical, and emotional preparation into your practice sessions. Remember that learning how to perform with confidence comes with mental focus and time, and that the most important thing is to convert all of the pre-performance rush into exhilaration and fun!