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Performance Anxiety- How Does it Feel?

Short answer? Naff! It feels naff!

Oh, to be able to go out on stage as carefree as Theresa May skipping through a field of wheat. I imagine she’ll be doing a lot more of that, now that she’s out of a job. I wouldn’t be surprised if an appearance on Strictly is on the cards given her extensive experience in dance. I digress…

Hello and welcome to part two of five in this Performance Anxiety series, where I attempt to answer some of the most googled questions about Performance Anxiety.

If you missed part one, where we looked at what Performance Anxiety actually means, click here to read.

This week’s question is:

How Does Performance Anxiety Feel?

Everybody is different and symptoms of Performance Anxiety and the severity of these symptoms differ from person to person. Even though we regard Performance Anxiety as a mental ‘issue’, it can affect us physically in many ways, including:

  1. Upset stomach/nausea

  2. Trembling

  3. Increased heart rate

  4. Short and shallow breathing/hyperventilating

  5. Cold/sweaty hands

  6. Excessive sweating

  7. Feeling lightheaded/dizzy

  8. Blurred vision

  9. Sudden or frequent urges to use the bathroom

What a delightful list. I could go on, but I think you get the idea- it’s not pleasant.

While those symptoms are going on (hopefully not all at the same time- having the shakes and needing the bathroom, is not a combination that’s going to end well) Performance can, simultaneously, plague your thoughts and your mental state. It’s the ultimate, evil multi-tasker.

It can leave you worrying about:

  1. Making a mistake

  2. Negative reaction from the audience

  3. Receiving criticism from other people

  4. Not being able to get through the performance

  5. Failure

  6. Your competence as a player

  7. and (ironically) feeling nervous on stage.

Despite not feeling particularly pleasant, the physical symptoms are completely normal. It’s your body’s reaction to an unnatural situation- we’ll look at the biological and psychological factors next week. In order to sort the mental symptoms out, you may need to look at your relationship with yourself as a player and also re-train yourself out of some negative thought processes, again I’ll talk about this later on in the series.

Myself and Performance Anxiety are well-acquainted. I try to make it feel unwelcome, but it’s like a visitor that just won’t leave, no matter how obvious you’ve shown that they’ve outstayed their welcome.

I was pretty shy, when I was little (hard to believe, I know, but it’s true). I used to make my Mum hide behind one of the pillars in church during my school nativity plays so I couldn’t see her. I hated doing swimming lessons because all the parents would stay to watch. I used to cry at sports day because I didn’t want to run the races in front of all the Mums and Dads (this one was justified, I’ve never been the athletic type, I just looked like Phoebe in that episode of friends when she goes jogging with Rachel)- I did not enjoy performing in any situation at all. This was also true when I first started playing in a band. I loved the rehearsals but would dread the concerts. However the more performing I did, the more confident I became. Not only was I playing in multiple bands, I signed up to performing arts club, acting groups, sports clubs, choirs etc. I’d still get slightly nervous, but I grew to enjoy performing.

Then I got older and I started to suffer with quite severe Performance Anxiety. I became an incredibly self-critical person and developed a hatred of failing. So not only did I feel pressure from the audience, I felt pressure from myself. I would dread coming off stage and feeling I could have done more and I hated the thought of an audience witnessing a bad performance. I wouldn’t sleep, I’d feel sick, I’d be shaky and I’d put so much pressure on myself to ensure I couldn’t possibly make a mistake on stage. In my head, making mistakes through nerves was a sign of incompetency and I felt I should be able to handle nerves as a performer. This mindset worked for a while. Performances were successful, I worked my way up the ladder progressing up through band sections, winning solo competition prizes along the way. I thought I had a very successful mindset.

Then I hit twenty years of age and it all came crashing down because this outlook on performing is not only stupid, it’s damaging. I was forcing myself to ignore the effects of performance anxiety rather than embracing it as something completely normal and dealing with it in a healthy way. I bullied myself and managed to give myself a complex with my playing that prohibited me from even picking up my instrument in the house and caused me to drop out of banding for a while.

Do not be like me- I’m an idiot. It’s taken over a year and a lot of discipline to finally get back into playing properly again. I still suffer with Performance Anxiety, I always will, but I know what it is now and, as proven in my last performance at the Spring Festival when I felt the full extent of Performance Anxiety, (click here to read about that), I can still deliver a decent performance whilst experiencing it.

All this has come from educating myself on Performance Anxiety and just being kinder to myself. I’ll share more about dealing and coping with Performance Anxiety later in the series.

So now we know the symptoms, next week we’ll be looking at what causes them, both psychologically and biologically. Once we establish the cause, we can effectively plan how to deal with it.

Click the links below to read about the experiences mentioned in this post.

Tacet- Taking a Break– How mental health issues and performance anxiety caused me to take a break from performing.

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Youtube: click here


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