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5 Ways to Handle Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety is basically a fact of life. I’m on my second performance degree right now, and just started my second decade as a performer, and I still get some pre-performance electricity going even for “small” performances. However, just because you’ve got some adrenaline going doesn’t have to mean you feel sick or terrified. It’s all a matter of perspective. Here’s how to feel pumped instead of petrified when you perform:

Flip your thinking. The most useful thing for me, personally, is to reinterpret the adrenaline that performances cause me. Instead of thinking nervous energy is anxiety, I interpret it as excitement. I choose to see my autonomous bodily response to a stimulus – how my body reacts to knowing I have a performance – not as a negative, but as a positive. If I think I’m energetic because I’m pumped, it flips my whole performance.

Develop small rituals. Having a ritual or routine before every production will help you reduce performance anxiety. The day of a performance, I make sure to bring hot water in my tea thermos, so an hour before I sing I can brew tea. Then I swing by a mirror so I can fix any mussed makeup, and also give myself a pep talk. Finally, I go wait wherever I’m going to perform, and remove distracting stuff like my Fitbit, my rings if I’m worried about them falling off, etc. Prepping for a performance the exact same way every time is soothing. It reminds me of all the other performances that went just fine.

Convince yourself that you’re prepared. Look, you’ve been practicing these pieces for ages. You know them. It’s going to be fine. Even if you have been slacking, you’re going to give the best performance you can with the work you’ve done. Positive self talk like this is essential! If you beat yourself up about the performance before you even do it, then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It works both ways – you’ll do as well as you expect to.

Remember that no one wants to see you fail. People don’t attend performances because they want to watch the performer bomb it. They want you to do well! They want you to succeed at entertaining them! They’re all rooting for you. They’re noticing all the positive things you do, and any negatives will be forgotten like, less than two days later, I guarantee. I can remember one flubbed performance, ever, and it’s specifically because I remember how gracefully the performer handled it. The same will be true of everyone else.

Practice performances. Practice in front of your friends. Run through the entire performance routine, from walking “on stage” to your introduction to the performance to the bow. Fear of the unfamiliar causes a lot of anxiety. If you’ve rehearsed something, it’s not unfamiliar anymore. I love having open dress rehearsals for shows, because the difference between that and opening night becomes a matter of scale instead of a complete change of atmosphere. Just take every opportunity to perform in front of people, and soon enough it will be less of a Huge Deal.

Performance anxiety is something everyone faces. I forget I have it until about, oh, fifteen minutes before every performance, and then it pounces. However, I’m reaching the point where I have strategies to face it, handle it, and move on. You’ll get there, too!

You got this.

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