How to Overcome Stage Fright
Minutes before your performance, have you ever felt your heart pound like it’s going to come out of your chest? Together with a mild shaky feeling that engulfs your cold, sweaty hands?
Perhaps you experience these things with lightheadedness, clouding your brain with fear, anxiety, and doubts.
If all of these sound familiar, then you might be coming across a common issue among many performers and musicians called stage fright.
Stage fright or performance anxiety refers to the dreadful feeling you get when you are about to get on stage in front of many people. It can range from a mild bout of nervousness to a full-blown panic attack that can take a toll on your mental health.
Some of its common symptoms include:
- Nausea and dizziness
- A racing pulse, heartbeat, and breathing
- Cold, sweaty, and trembling hands
- Quivering lips and voice
- Tight throat
- Thought of every negative thing that can go wrong
If you currently have a hard-case of performance anxiety, then don’t worry. You are not alone. Many famous performers have the same condition, from Steven Hough to Adele.
The good news is that there are different self-help strategies to control and gradually get over your stage fright.
1. Redirect Your Focus
Performance anxiety almost always stems from your inner self-doubts and fears. What if I make a mistake? What if they don’t like my piece because it’s not perfect?
What you need to do is to shift your focus away from yourself and remember your real purpose. Stop contemplating the what-ifs and start thinking about the importance and true meaning of your performance.
For instance, you are invited to perform for a breast cancer charity you deeply care about. Instead of dwelling on your fears of making mistakes, focus on the smiles that you will be able to put onto people’s faces by simply giving your best.
2. Improve Your Craft
Nothing beats the age-old saying practice makes perfect. Preparing in advance and practicing your material over and over again helps a lot in overcoming stage fright.
Rehearse your piece and go through the challenging parts until you master it. Practicing daily helps you get familiar with the material and allows you to be more comfortable. Here are some tips on how to improve your craft more before D-day.
- Practice in front of a mirror to see yourself perform and the things you need to work on.
- Have a mock performance with friends and family as your audience. Then get their feedback on what they think you need to improve on.
- If you are having a hard time over a particular part of your performance, you can ask your mentor or an expert for help.
3. Prepare Yourself
Stop trying to set an abysmally high expectation of yourself. Even if you practiced with your instrument for the nth time, mistakes are inevitable, and that is OK.
Be realistic and make peace with the fact that your performance will have both great and not-so-good parts in it. Do not treat setbacks as failures because they are not. Take them as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Prepare yourself by engaging in a positive self pep talk. Instead of saying, “I’ll only make a fool of myself and make mistakes,” try uplifting yourself by becoming your very own cheerleader.
4. Practice Calming Strategies
Stage fright comes from the dark recesses of your mind that flow into your thoughts and manifests itself to your body. The only way to calm your mind and nerves is to battle it with mental tricks and strategies, such as:
- Deep belly breathing helps oxygen circulate throughout your brain and body, improving your focus and lessening your anxiousness.
- Release tension by shaking your hands, jumping, and loosening your shoulders. You can pair this with deep breathing.
- Repeat an encouraging self pep talk or mantra to boost your confidence like “You can do this” or “I believe in you, and I am proud of you.”
- Get rid of or lessen your nervous energy by redirecting it. You can do this by throwing something big like a backpack or rock.
5. Create a Comfortable Environment
Anxiety always comes from a person’s fear of the unknown. To cope with that, you can try to make your surroundings as comfortable as possible by bringing familiar things on the stage with you.
For example, a cellist can bring their own comfy seat to the stage with them, or a singer can use their own set of microphones and lapels. Use materials that you are accustomed to, which include clothes, make-up, and hair.
6. Stick to Healthy Habits
Much of the battle involved in overcoming stage fright happens in your mind. However, having a healthy body also helps strengthen your overall health, making it easier for you to control your anxiety.
Improve your craft but do not forget to take care of yourself. Make sure to have an ample amount of breaks in between practices and a designated “me-time.” Do things that relax you and make you happy.
Other healthy practices that can help you manage your performance anxiety include:
- Getting enough sleep, especially before your big performance. Fatigue only contributes to low concentration and scattered thoughts.
- Eat healthy meals. Consume light but nutritious foods before getting on stage to prevent tummy problems.
- Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks right before your performance. It only adds to your anxiety and nervousness.
- Stay away from drugs, alcohol, and nicotine.
- Practice daily exercise to keep your mind and body healthy.
- Have a nighttime routine where you get rid of your phone an hour before bed to achieve the eight to nine hours of recommended sleep.
- Don’t overexert yourself the day before your performance. Go over your material for a reasonable amount of time, then do relaxing things unrelated to your performance like reading a book or getting into a nice, hot shower.
You will always be nervous and scared because you are doing something that has great value to you. But what you can do is to manage it and not let it rule you.