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Performance anxiety occurs in many contexts such as sports, acting, and singing, but whatever the situation, the problem is the same.
Everyone has performance anxiety to some degree or other, so it’s a perfectly normal feeling to have whenever you are on stage or doing anything in front of a listening audience!
Performance anxiety always works in the same way. You have to perform an activity that requires you to be 'in the moment' or in 'full flow' as some psychologists call it. You start to worry about it, and think about all the things that could do wrong. This gets in the way of your performance, which means that you worry even more. If you try not to worry, you are still not really in the right frame of mind for peak performance because you are still thinking about what is happening, when really you need to be experiencing it.
There can be many different things and factors that can contribute to performance anxiety. Some of the most common fears include:
There are a number of techniques you can use to help with performance anxiety.
Everyone has nerves!
No one performs completely free of nerves. Even professionals who perform every night of their lives feel nervous before a performance. The good news is that adrenaline isn't the enemy! In fact you really need to have a little adrenaline to boost your performance.
Assuming that you must be calm before a performance will result in setting yourself up for huge pangs of anxiety when you don't turn out to be as cool as a cucumber. On the other hand, if you expect to be a little bit nervous and jittery, this can help you through your anxiety.
You can actually use the fight-or-flight excitement of adrenaline coursing through your body to enhance your performance. By re-framing your thoughts about your performance, you can change from the fight-or-flight adrenaline to a rush of excitement and seize the opportunity.
The best thing you can do to avoid feeling nervous, is to perform as much as you can. The more that you perform, the easier it will get.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Sometimes, performance anxiety comes about because you haven’t rehearsed enough and are still not 100% sure of what you are about to perform. So if you step out on stage without having made all the necessary preparations, you will be more prone to feeling anxious. This will make you more nervous and less likely to be able to perform to the best of your ability!
Being well-practised before your performance will help you to reduce any feelings of nervousness and will make you more confident on stage! It will also reduce the possibility of making mistakes because you will be so familiar with your material or whatever you are about to perform.
It should be remembered though that preparation isn't the same as over-practising or aiming for perfection. Over-practising means that you practice so much that you lose sight of the joy of performing and only focus on perfection. Aiming for perfection takes the joy out of performing because everything becomes a contest, if only with your self, and is counter productive.
Warming up is important, for any performer. Not only will this give you confidence, it will also make you perform better!
Visualisation (mental rehearsal)
Visualise what you’re going to do in your mind and go through it step by step. See yourself going through the whole thing, and see yourself performing brilliantly. Get a feeling for what it’s like.
Practice with a Listening Audience
It helps to practice with a listening audience present. This can be with your friends, family, or even complete strangers! You could, possibly, start off just imagining that you’re performing to an audience. You could then progress to performing to your best friend as your audience, and slowly increase the number of people who you perform to. This allows you to build up confidence in your ability, and also makes performing in front of people a regular habit so that it becomes less daunting for you as a performer! When you finally go on stage to perform, you’ll be more prepared and less affected by any nerves.
Make Fun of Your Audience In Your Mind
One effective and well known tip for reducing performance anxiety is to imagine your audience in funny ways, so it makes it less daunting to perform in front of them!
You could imagine that their heads are watermelons, and think of how silly it would be to have an audience of watermelons watching you perform! You could imagine that your audience is totally naked! That would make them more nervous than you and it would certainly take away any nervousness, although you would have to stop staring at them!
Another useful tip is to look through your audience by fixing your eyes at the back of the room. The audience will still think you are looking at them, but because you are not looking at their faces or eyes, it makes it less scary for you on stage!
Whenever you feel the onset of any performance anxiety, it’s good to practice some deep breathing to calm your nerves, and help you stay relaxed and focussed.
Your Audience are Your Friends!
During your performance, your thoughts may turn to the audience whenever you become concerned about what they think of you and how well you are performing. We are all more relaxed when we’re in front of our friends and family, so treat your audience as friends, and interact with them in that way! You will find that this takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders, and makes it easier for you to leave an impression on them too.
It’s important that you adopt a 'Sharing Attitude', so it’s always worth remembering that you’re performing because you want to share your talents, and your performance with the audience. Once you’re able to keep this sharing attitude in mind, you will find that the anxiety and the stress will leave you, and you will feel more relaxed and able to do your best on stage!
It is also worth remembering the audience are there to have a good time too, and nobody wants to see you fail. They’re all on your side!
Trust your sub-conscious
If you have done the practice, the sheer repetition of rehearsing will mean that it is ingrained in your subconscious, so let it work for you. Just relax and get in the ‘zone’ and it will all come flooding out!
It can help if you can identify what the cause of your anxiety is, because if you learn why something happens, it usually becomes less frightening!
This is where the hypnosis comes in. With Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) it is assumed that every behaviour (performance anxiety in this case) actually has a positive function. It is trying to do something positive for you.
Using hypnosis, we can ask your sub-conscious about what has been making you anxious and what that positive function is. We can then ask your subconscious to find new ways of keeping you safe, well and protected, but at the same time giving you freedom from this feeling of anxiety, and allowing you to perform at your best.
Hypnosis also helps to get you into the optimum state for peak performance, so that all those old worries simply become irrelevant, and because it’s a state of concentration and relaxation, it trains your brain to quickly and easily get into the state where you can perform at your best.
This content is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional advice.