Beyond Stage Fright - Managing Performance Nerves
The Fight-Flight Response
When you get up on stage to perform, you want a certain amount of adrenalin flowing round your body to enhance your performance. It is very easy to slip from this positive, healthy approach into the fight-flight response. This happens when our body feels it is in extreme physical danger, and on some unconscious level we’re fearing for our life, as if we’re being chased by a wild animal. Our body goes into survival mode and all sorts of physiological responses take place. Our heart beat increases, breathing becomes more rapid; our digestion slows right down and blood might drain from our face, all so that we can escape from ‘danger.’ These responses might be very valuable when we really are in physical danger but they can be very destructive for music making. One of the worst of these responses for musicians, is that the creative part of our brain shuts down. When we’re fearing for our life, the last thing we’re planning is to be ‘creative’ but of course, that’s exactly what we want if we’re performing music.
One of the simplest and yet the most effective things you can do to support yourself when the fight-flight response has kicked in is to breathe. Breathing will calm your nervous system and will calm you emotionally. It takes you quickly out of the ‘danger’ state and tells your body that everything is safe. It’s almost impossible to breathe deeply and hold your body in a very tense state, and that can only be a good thing.
Tomorrow, we will be exploring the importance of practice and preparation in helping to manage your nerves.
Imagine a performance that is coming up and notice your body start the beginnings of the fight-flight response. See yourself in the wings getting ready to go on stage. You’re feeling jittery but you now are more consciously aware of the power of the breath.
- Take 3-10 slow, deep breaths and notice how your body and your emotions respond.
- Jot down in a notebook the difference you felt after you had taken the breaths.
Now make a commitment that you will bring this simple breathing technique into your practice on a daily basis. Take 3-10 breaths before you play or sing a single note and build it in as a habit. Not only will this start to free up your playing, but you will be more likely to remember it when you need it before you go on stage.
Resources and further reading