When I was a young girl, my mother wanted me to sing in competitions.
This involved singing in front of a judge and a very large audience of perhaps one hundred people, all watching and listening to me.
Practising at home was just fine. Everyone listening in my home thought it was wonderful. I felt fine; I was relaxed and confident.
What Performance Anxiety Feels Like …
As the week of the competition drew closer, however, all those feelings of dread and anxiety raised their ugly heads. I clearly remember feeling agitated and my appetite was poor. Overall I felt terrible and dreaded the thought of the moment I would be expected to walk on the stage without my knees giving way.
When the day of the performance arrived all symptoms sky rocketed. The very thought of food made me sick; I was panicking about forgetting my words and making a fool of myself. I felt miserable and fearful.
I can even remember being called to the stage to perform, but, guess what, I was nowhere to be found. I could hear my name being called, but I was in the toilet (again) and eventually came rushing onto the stage, to the mirth of the audience and the relief of my mother.
Somehow I always survived the performance, even though my legs and hands were shaking and I had to work extremely hard to overcome the dreaded nervous quiver in my voice. Looking poised, calm and acting like I was enjoying the experience was indeed arduous. It would have been so wonderful to have actually felt calm and poised.
Over the years I have facilitated many seminars and presentations, and I perform regularly in dance. The same symptoms are never far from the surface and I have to focus beforehand to avoid any fear of forgetting my words or the dance choreography. Thankfully, I have learned techniques and strategies to help overcome all the nerves and anxiety associated with performing in public whether I am talking, or dancing.
Performance anxiety or “stage fright” can occur at any age, and any time a person is required to speak, sing or perform in front of an audience.
I have worked with adolescents, for example, where they feel too anxious to present their class oral assignment. They may have a history of being really sick and staying home on the very day they are required to present. Others may attempt the presentation but because they feel petrified, they mumble all the way through, speak way too quickly and softly, and overall perform poorly, get a low grade and lose their confidence even more. They believe they are making a fool of themselves, a fear that is only confirmed by the other students laughing at them.
It can be devastating for feelings of dread to spoil a performance that you have worked so hard for, and spent endless hours practising, dedicated to achieving your best. Your confidence deteriorates. So many people make comments like: “I could have done so much better. Nerves got me. I’m just no good at this”. Unfortunately, “Can’t Do” replaces “Can Do”.
Overcoming Performance Anxiety
Fortunately, there are many techniques we all can implement to help us do our best while performing.
One key, is to not focus on having to be perfect. Instead, aim to enjoy your own performance no matter what. Some people see their performance as either perfect or a failure. We need to avoid focusing on all the negative thoughts, beliefs and predictions about our performance. See the audience as supportive and looking forward to enjoying what you do, rather than sitting there judging and criticising you and hoping that you “stuff up”.
There are many more techniques and tricks we can all use to help us perform to our best in public.
If you or any member of your family is suffering the agony of stage fright, please make an appointment to see me. There is no need to continue feeling stressed about performing. Success is at hand!
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
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