Do you ever get nervous when you have to speak in front of people? Play music or sing in front of people? Perform in any capacity?
Cold, sweaty hands and feet, shaking or trembling, sudden forgetfulness/”blanking out”- any of these sound familiar?
Most of us can all relate to these symptoms of performance anxiety, as it is inevitable that during our lives we are required to “perform” in some way or another, even if it’s just giving a speech at your best friend’s wedding.
Or, if you’re in the performing industry as a singer/dancer/actor/etc, then dealing with nerves becomes something you do on a more regular basis.
Several years ago I was performing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. It was Nutcracker season and I was cast in the Snow and Flowers corps de ballet. (Photo above is me in the Snow costume) I remember that the Snow dance was particularly challenging for a group part, but nothing that was too difficult. I really loved the rehearsal process - learning the dance, practicing it, perfecting it. I loved the costumes, I loved the whole experience of dancing onstage in a professional dance company...but I did not love performing. I actually grew to fear and dread it. I was so nervous that is felt like my body would freeze up onstage. So I would go back into the studio, and work on the dance. Except, there wasn’t much to work on- I could it all perfectly in the studio! It was going onstage that made my nerves go crazy. I’m sure many of you can relate to this, whether or not you’re a dancer, because we all go through experiences that bring out our nerves.
Why we get nervous - an unusual answer:
We all have a primal desire: To be accepted.
Thousands of years ago, if we were not accepted by our tribe, we would not survive, we would die.
We want to do a good performance/good speech/etc so that the audience will accept us. If we mess up, or don’t perform well, we fear we won’t be accepted, and in essence, we fear for our lives! We don’t realize this, but deep down on a subconscious level, this is what’s going on. This fear of not being accepted immediately turns on the body’s fight-or-flight mode, which causes your hands to sweat, body to tremble or freeze up, etc. Try to perform a difficult Nutcracker dance for a packed house, wearing pointe shoes, when your body is frozen, contracted, and tense. Not easy. No wonder I didn’t like the experience!
How to shift it:
Realizing what’s going on is the first step. Now you are aware!!! Awareness is crucial.
Next, talk to your body like you would a precious baby you love with all your heart.Say to it, “It’s okay, body. It’s okay little body. I know you’re just nervous that you won’t be accepted. I love and accept you.
(Your body needs to know that you will love it no matter what happens onstage.)
Lastly, you take away the “high stakes” attitude.
If you are going to give a speech in front of 10 million people, you would be nervous. That’s a lot of people who may not accept you! That is definitely a “high-stakes” situation. Your body might tense up, your speech would lack the ease and calm you had when you practiced. You might even forget parts of it.
However, if you are going to give a speech in front of your mom, dad, and best friend, you would probably not be nervous. You know they will accept you anyway, even if your speech is terrible. Therefore, you give your speech in a calm and relaxed way and truly enjoy the process.
No matter what situation you are in (high stakes or low stakes), use your IMAGINATION to fully convince yourself that what you’re doing is extremely low stakes, it’s a just a little thing, really no big deal. This will turn off the fight-flight, and you will be able to relax and enjoy yourself!
Real-life example from my recent performance:
In my recent dance performance with Onium Ballet Project this past Sunday, I was quite nervous during the dress rehearsal. Not so fun.
The following day, I shifted my mindset and told myself that I was performing for senior citizens, that the whole audience was made up solely of seniors who were bussed in from their senior home. Of course, all of my nerves disappeared and I could just dance without performance anxiety. Senior citizens would accept me and love me if I was great, or if I was awful, so I could relax and let the fight-or-flight mode turn off.
I hope this blog has helped you, maybe made you laugh a bit, and has given you a greater understanding of where performance anxiety stems from and how make a shift!
Remember, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. - Wayne Dyer