Feel the Fear – Addressing Performance Anxiety – What the heck is it?!

Performance anxiety. Stage fright. The collywobbles. Nerves. Tanking. Piking it.

Stage Fright [EXPLORE]
Nervous?! Photo credit: WilliamMarlow
Call it what you will, as guitarists, musicians and performers we have all been in the situation at some point in our playing lives whereby we suffer from a bout of nervousness that overcomes us to some degree and has a detrimental impact on our music-making. I know I have and I’d be a big fat fibber if I said anything else!

And addressing this delightful phenomenon is a process. That is to say it usually takes time and a number of steps in keeping it in check to a level that doesn’t affect us. It can more often than not be an ongoing process too. I’m not sure if it’s ever the case of being “cured” as such, so we performers first learn to recognise the issue and then to remain cognisant of the need to always take charge of it.

Before one can really begin to address something, however, first of all you’ve got to know what you’re dealing with.

So performance anxiety. What is it?

Essentially, nerves or performance anxiety is a physical response to our brains desire to keep us safe from harm.

Yep that’s right, harm. It’s a fear response.

This kind of reaction – also known as the fight or flight response – pumps a shed load of adrenaline, cortisol and other substances into the bloodstream, moving blood away from the stomach to the heart, brain and muscles that are going to shift us away from physical danger or take it on and give it a bop on the nose. These are physical dangers such as a snake hiding in the undergrowth or a big fat juicy spider lurking in the leaves in the back yard. You know, stuff that can cause you actual physical harm.

But this kind of danger or threat is not usually the case when we’re giving a performance right?

Right.

Our brain and our body is protecting us from another kind of threat.

An emotional threat.

And that emotional threat is the threat of us being perceived as stupid, scared, incompetent, weak, generally rubbish, worthless, a loser, embarrassed …..These are all things that we’re thinking to ourselves at some scale. Well, more or less. For some it’s relatively unconscious, bubbling away beneath the surface. For others it may be a lot more conscious with negative self-talk going on – “bloody hell, I hope I don’t stuff this up“, “I’m not very good at this“, “I’m sorry if I make any mistakes“, “Everyone’s here to see me and I’ll bet they’re just waiting to hear that first mistake”…. Any of those sound familiar?

We may also have had some experiences in our past that seemingly (although perhaps not in reality from another’s view-point) confirm our negative self-talk, which compounds this reaction further.

So our performance anxiety is a result of our brains trying to protect us from emotional pain and suffering. Errrr, thanks brain…..

So now we’ve had a little look at what performance anxiety is, we’re in a better place to address it. Over the coming weeks we’ll delve a little further into performance anxiety and some techniques for addressing it.

Watch this space!

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