Palms are Sweaty, Knees Weak, Arms are Heavy? How to Overcome Stage Fright/Performance Anxiety

Different Kinds of Performance Anxiety

We all experience stage fright or anxiety in one way or another when we are performing. Stage fright, also known as performance anxiety, can either help or hinder our performance. There are many kinds of performance anxiety. Let us look at them below.

According to Barbara Conable, there are four kinds of performance anxiety:

1. Butterflies
2. Self consciousness
3. Emotions coming from being under-prepared
4. Debilitating fear and panic

Butterflies

The feeling of having butterflies in your stomach. Often occurs hours before the performance. This is a normal feeling to have. It shows that you are ready for your performance. Use it to make your performance better.

Self consciousness

Being intensely aware that others are paying attention to you. Often happens when you think about your upcoming performance. If you let it, self consciousness will affect your performance.

Emotions coming from being under-prepared

A mixture of confusion, shame, avoidance and fear. Often happens in the weeks leading up to the performance. Results in a below average performance due to the lack of preparation.

Debilitating fear and panic

Extreme emotions of fear and panic that come in waves. Dry mouth, shaking legs and sweating. Finding it hard to hear the accompaniment (i.e. feeling like the piano is far away/cannot hear the backing track). Can happen at anytime before and during the performance. You may feel like you want to stop the performance and run offstage. Affects the technical aspects of the performance.  

Solutions

Self consciousness

Realize that the audience are there to hear you sing/play and not to stare at you as a person. Shift your focus towards your song. Pour your heart and soul into it. Be fully present and in the moment during the performance. Let your emotions flow through your song.

Emotions coming from being under-prepared

Be thoroughly prepared for your performance. If you are too busy or otherwise unable to prepare well for your performance, cancel or postpone the performance.

Debilitating fear and panic

Being present and grounded will help you overcome this fear. This process takes time and effort. Here are 4 steps to help you be present and grounded.

Step 1: Feel the fear

Acknowledge that the fear is there. Do not try to ignore it. Embrace it along with all the other emotions that you’re feeling. Are you also feeling excited? Or sad? Or slightly nostalgic? Have a range of emotions. That way, the other emotions will ‘cushion’ the emotion of fear; making it more bearable.

Step 2: Let the emotions run through your body

Take 3 deep breaths. With each breath in and out, feel your emotions being transferred to all parts of your body - your chest, arms, hands, legs, feet. Feel your emotions in your clothes and your shoes. Let your energy sink to your feet. This will help you stay grounded.

Step 3: Scan your environment

Arrive early to get a feel of your performance space. Look around your performance space. Notice every little detail of it. Notice the colour of the stage curtains. Be aware of the instruments onstage. Get a feel for the spot where you will be standing during the performance. Look at your audience. Scan the crowd. Acknowledge their presence. If you are auditioning or doing a performance exam, acknowledge the presence of your adjudicators.

Step 4: Connect with your audience

Let your emotions flow through your instrument and song to the audience. Be aware of your instrument and trust your skills. Use your instrument to express your truth and emotions through the songs that you are performing.

Conclusion

Performance anxiety need not be a hindrance to a good and enjoyable performance. It is essential to identify the kind of anxiety that you are experiencing. Only then can you take steps to overcome it. Just like practicing singing/playing an instrument, the more you practice overcoming performance anxiety, the better you will get at it.

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