Performance anxiety, also known as stage fright, is a problem that affects millions of people in the U.S. alone. Even when the people most affected by it are athletes, actors, musicians, and public speakers, the truth is that anyone can suffer from stage fright. Your life will improve dramatically once you learn how to get rid of stage fright when singing or under any circumstance.
At the Healing Collective Therapy Group, we teach artists and corporate executives how to get rid of stage fright when singing or speaking publicly. This post will review performance anxiety and how to get rid of it. But to do so, we need to understand first what anxiety is and how it works. Let's begin.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response that individuals have when faced with stressful or fearful situations. It's an adaptive response to protect ourselves from harm. Whether or not the threat is real or perceived, our brain will go into protective mode and the anxious brain is activated.
The problem is, when threats are not real we can still experience anxiety. As our brain can’t differentiate if a situation is a real or perceived threat. Therefore, we will still experience symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heartbeat, sweating, shaking, intrusive and racing thoughts, etc. If we don’t have the tools to calm the anxious brain, the symptoms of anxiety persist.
Stage fright is a situation where many people experience it as a threat. This is why the anxious brain becomes activated for those who are about to enter a stage or performance. The brain perceives the stage and performance as a threat and goes into protective mode, which is often associated with anxiety.
The perceived threat is often associated with perfectionism, fear of judgment, embarrassment, low self-esteem, and other causes. Be that as it may, there's good news: You can overcome performance anxiety!
How Do You Fight Anxiety?
The best way to combat anxiety is to first identify when anxiety shows up and learn the tools to calm the anxious brain before it gets out of control. Once these are in place, practicing them is essential. Studies have consistently shown that exposure is the best way to combat anxiety. According to the APA, this therapy exposes the patient progressively to the source of fear and anxiety.
Identify your specific physical responses to anxiety
The first signs anxiety is coming on are physical or somatic signs. The most common physical symptoms are increased heart-rate, sweaty hands, stomach pain, shaking hands, and tension. It is important to identify what your physical symptoms are.
Be aware when your body shows signs of responding to anxiety
Once you’ve identified your physical symptoms, awareness of them showing up is the next step. The moment these symptoms arise, this tells you your anxious brain is activated.
Use grounding techniques to calm your mind
The goal is to keep the anxious brain from getting out of the window of tolerance. Some ways to do this is utilizing mindfulness and grounding techniques, such as breath work and grounding techniques.
Reframe your internal narrative
Once you’ve calmed the anxious brain, the next step is to reframe your unhelpful, irrational or negative thoughts. It is important to come up with a replacement narrative that is more helpful, rational or positive. A narrative that calms the anxious brain, rather than fuelling it.
Following these steps and practicing them religiously is how to get rid of stage fright when singing or when you're under the pressure of performing.
Exposure to Performance Anxiety
Every performance you expose yourself to provides you the experience to practice identifying your physical symptoms and utilizing the tools that work for you, i.e. mindfulness and grounding practices.
If you're terrified of singing in front of other people, try gathering two or three friends and ask them to be your audience and practice singing in front of them.
Go through the steps to calm your anxious brain and see what happens. Sometimes it takes a few times to be able to calm the anxious brain, but with time, it absolutely works.
As your comfort level increases, you can find ways to increase your audience. That can look like a family or friends party or a local restaurant or bar. Increasing your exposure to performing will help you get to a point of managing your anxiety and ultimately performing with ease.
Further Tips to Overcome Stage Fright
The more you practice, the more prepared you will be. It inevitably increases your awareness related to anxiety and allows you the space to practice the tools that decrease anxiety.
2) Reduce Caffeine and Stimulators
You might say that caffeine doesn't affect you. It may be true that it doesn't affect you as much as other people. But that doesn't take away its negative effects on anxiety.
If you have a big event or public speech coming, don't rely on coffee or energy drinks to back you up. It's best to go for fulfilling and healthy meals an hour or two before the performance.
3) Connect With Your Audience
Connecting with your audience is a way to increase your comfort level, which in turn, decreases anxiety. Remember, audience members are human too, and no one in the audience is perfect.
4) A Thought is a Thought
Sometimes, it can feel like intrusive thoughts are more powerful than us. But one thought is nothing more than that. Turning them into rational, helpful or positive thoughts will hugely impact the way you show up on stage.
Replace the self-critical, judgmental narrative with the opposite. Come up with a self-compassionate, encouraging, and inspiring narrative.
5) Let Go of Perfectionism
Things sometimes go wrong. No one is perfect, and neither are you. But that's okay! Maybe you sing a note out of key or forget what you were going to say. People might notice, but they don't care as much as you think they do.
People are often more concerned about their own fears and worries than they are concerned about you. This video might help put things into perspective.
6) Talk to a Therapist
If you continue to find yourself struggling, a mental health professional can help you overcome this fear. Don't be ashamed to ask for help! Our therapists are trained professionals who are experienced and can help. They're empathetic and can assist you with your personal situation.
Find someone you feel comfortable with, as you will probably need to open up and discuss your inner fears and thoughts. While the process might be challenging, the long-term results will be worth it-especially when you learn how to get rid of stage fright when singing, speaking publicly or performing.