How to Deal with Performance Anxiety by Chi Lee

Performance anxiety is a problem that most musicians have to deal with. Some of us may not suffer much from it; the rest of us, including myself, struggle with it for a lifetime. There are many different ways and ideas about how to feel better while performing, so I strongly encourage you to find one that helps you the best. Luckily, I am currently taking Ms. Janet Rarick’s Body and Mind Connection class, which brings in many guest instructors who talk about various approaches to controlling performance anxiety. Now I am going to take this blog as a chance to share what I have learned from the class, and I hope some of the ways can help you to become a better performer.

The first approach that I want to share with you is the “rhythmic breathing” method introduced by Dr. Robert G. Sones. There are four steps:

1) Breathe in from the abdomen and count to four;

2) Hold it for the same count;

3) Exhale for the same count; and finally,

4) Hold your breath out for the same count.

Repeat the process. I found that this breathing exercise really helps me calm down my nerves before performing.

A second approach is the “thought,” which Dr. Sones introduced as well. “Thoughts are creative,” and “every thought you have has its root in one of two basic emotions: love or fear,” he mentioned in class. So creating an optimal thought in your head before performing is important. Dr. Sones suggests that you can focus on the last performance in which you did well before your present performance.

Third, Dr. Elizabeth Slator introduced the method of using imagery. Imagining the performance before you actually perform is a powerful mental practice of decreasing performance anxiety. Imagery practice is especially helpful as well when you are injured or have limited practice time. Reading music and imagining the act of playing helps your physical playing.

The last approach that I want to share with you is meditation and mindfulness practice, which was introduced by Ms. Micki Fine. She said that “mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and letting go of judgment, critical thought, and preconceived ideas.” I think part of the reason that we tend to get stressed about performances is that because we worry how other people/the audience will judge our playing. Instead, if we try to let go of that worry and enjoy the act of performing, we will notice the power of “being in the moment.” Ms. Fine also introduced the RAIN process of practicing mindfulness:

1) Recognize that emotion is present;

2) Allow the emotion to be present as best you can;

3) Investigate, bring your attention to the body, and notice where you feel the emotion in the body;

4) Non-identify; remind yourself that you are not alone in suffering . . . that suffering is part of being human.

Noticing anxiety before performing and accepting that feeling actually helps me to not tighten up my muscles while performing.

I hope the information above is helpful to you if you are suffering from performance anxiety like I do. It is a problem when performance anxiety starts bothering you and preventing you from playing your best, and now is the time to find the best way to help yourself!

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