How to Free Yourself from Performance Anxiety and Stage Fright
by Jenny James
There I was, standing in front of 200 people plus, ready to sing at a public event. Little did they know what I was feeling inside … or perhaps it was obvious; I was feeling intense stage fright, legs shaking and my voice box feeling like it was in a vice. I wasn’t sure what sort of sound would come out of my mouth.
So what happened? . . .
Only a moment ago, a few steps away from the stage, I had been feeling a sense of calm. Performance anxiety and stage fright is a fear that affects many people in many situations, and one that we can face daily — from job interviews to stage work … it’s all the same. It even has a stage name! — Glossophobia
So why does this occur, what happens? What changes from when we are singing in the: — bathroom or the car — speaking with friends — feeling relaxed — free and expressive — … to when we walk on stage in front of an audience or speak in front of a group of people?
In real terms, why should that be any different to being in our lounge room? Sure, the surrounding environment changes, but is there more to consider than that? So I asked myself — what else changes? It’s me — I change!
In certain situations I became self-conscious, and then the thoughts in my mind and my body physiology actually changed. I became nervous, stuttered, became speechless… and basically TERRIFIED! The body becomes hard and tense, and the mind racy and full of errant thoughts like …
- OMG! — ‘Am I good enough?’
- ‘How will I know what to say?’
- ‘What will my voice sound like when it comes out of my mouth?’
- ‘Why have I all of a sudden turned into an idiot and can’t remember anything?’
- ‘How come I lose my train of thought mid-sentence?’
- ‘Why has my throat closed over?’ Everything looks hostile. What a disaster
… AND THEN I can’t do it! I am terrified and am not going to get it right!
How come it feels so debilitating, so full on? And where has the ‘me’ gone to that felt so relaxed, that knows what is needed and how to do it?
So what happens? I basically leave myself, I leave my body behind. I walk out and desert myself, any sort of confidence leaves the building and the complications begin … It is as simple as that.
Why do I lose myself and how can I come back?
‘Confidence equals presence’
These words really helped me begin to understand what was underlying my lack of self-confidence and how to deal with it. Imagine being able to stay yourself, stay present, regardless of the environment. It’s all about developing self-presence.
In simple terms, overcoming stage fright depends on our ability to stay present, with ourselves, in all situations. Then we can relax and enjoy ourselves and any mind-messing thoughts that tried to sabotage us just dissipate. We can feel how powerful it is when we surrender and just allow ourselves to be, naturally.
When ‘present’ and ‘with ourselves’, we naturally know and say what is needed. For me, I can feel a natural warmth and presence in my body. My voice is full, resonant and clear… the words just flow and most importantly, it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake — not one bit! When I start to relax and enjoy myself I can feel others relax and enjoy me. It’s me being how I am naturally that counts. There is not one iota of the need for perfection, and yet everything feels perfect just as it is.
I realised that stage fright wasn’t something to be ‘overcome’ — to get over, to make myself ‘better’ from. It was simply the feeling that somewhere inside myself I still felt that I was not good enough. I would put huge pressure on myself to ‘perform’. This squashed my natural ability to be myself.
How can you develop and trust your ability to stay present with yourself — wherever you are?
Presence is a state of being, not something that we can study or just add to our resumé, but something to practice and build a consistency with in our daily lives. It is a beautiful process of developing oneself through self-care and nurturing and a great journey of self-acceptance: learning how our ‘imperfections’ are perfect. It is a process of honouring and acknowledging all that we feel and see so that the hidden thoughts that can jump out and surprise us sometimes will not debilitate us.
It is about building a strong foundation of presence within ourselves so that when we feel that we lack confidence or are unsure we have enough experience of what ‘presence’ feels like to know that it is possible to come back to ourselves and not ‘leave the building’.
With this in mind we can begin to observe what is happening within ourselves — the times we feel steady and present and the times we don’t. We can start to look at and change the way we live our lives by honouring our body’s feelings more, not rushing, taking more time to nurture ourselves.
Allowing ourselves to be present in all we do develops trust and confidence, and we become more and more steady and consistent in our approach to the way we live, and that includes everything we do — from setting the dinner table to walking on stage. It’s all the same.
Awareness of breath and body is a great place to start. Bringing awareness into everything we do develops a conscious presence that allows us to feel the steadiness of ourselves first, before anything else. It feels like coming home, back to you.
When you really feel and appreciate all that you are, that you do have a natural inner strength and power, and that you can be that no matter where you are — you never want to leave yourself again.
Now when I walk on stage to sing or speak to people it’s a different experience. I can be the same anywhere I go; I can relax, enjoy myself and even have fun with the ‘imperfect’ moments that make life interesting and human. I can be aware of tensions, and although they may be there at times, not let nerves get the better of me. This would have been unthinkable before. It’s simply about truly letting myself be myself in any environment.
Originally published at www.unimedliving.com.