Anxiety and Performance: A confession
It's come to my attention recently that I have some very bizarre triggers related to performance anxiety. I consider this odd only because in my earlier years, I never encountered this problem. As a young professional, I never once got nervous or worried about being judged in auditions or performances. I had an aloofness about me when preparing to perform. I'm not sure what it was, but I was able to put up a nice wall around myself and present an air of confidence. Yes, many of my colleagues found this off-putting, but I didn't care. I was more concerned with putting forth a great performance. I'll never forget how the buzzword around me was "poise." Always, the first compliment, before my singing, was, "she's so poised!"
Up until now, I was not quite sure when the poise left the building, but after much thought, I remembered a conversation I'd had with a colleague. He'd mentioned that my other colleagues didn't like me because I acted "stuck-up, aloof, and full of myself." I'd heard these comments before and had always chalked them up to jealousy. But after hearing that from a "concerned friend," I was beginning to wonder about my own self worth and my abilities as an artist. It definitely became a trigger for my anxiety (with which I have struggled my whole life) and years later, when I look back at this, I feel that I might have lost my "power." Certainly, that poised, competitive, fearless artist I was had been damaged slightly.
I mention this because anxiety is a crippling affliction for an artist. One minute, you're performing without a care in the world, then you hear a word, phrase, even a piece of music, and you end up a ball of nerves. Several students have come to me to discuss their own struggles with anxiety. I find it surprising that people don't talk about it as openly and honestly as they should. In many cases, we are made to feel that having stress or anxiety makes us weak. This is FALSE. Having the extra burden of processing and coping with triggers makes us much stronger - but it doesn't always feel that way. I get a little angry when I see articles labeled with "trigger warnings" because I believe that we NEED to learn how to deal with these things. Life has traumatic moments. If we hide from those traumas, it ends up being a disservice. Anxiety is a horrible thing to deal with, but if we don't make an effort to DEAL with it, then we end up hiding from the world and never sharing our gifts!
I don't believe that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to treating anxiety. Everyone has different triggers and different biology. Fight-or-flight response occurrs differently for us all. As a performer, I have learned (and I'm still learning) to use different methods to calm myself down and build my inner strength back up. I've learned that it is perfectly acceptable to be a little vulnerable now and then, and not to cave to the pressure to conform. I've never been one of the "popular kids," even in the world of music. But, professional performance is not about being the most popular amongst your peers. It's about living up to your potential and learning to DEAL. How you learn to deal is up to you. There is a wealth of information out there. You just have to take the plunge and ask for help!
As a special treat, I have asked my friend, motivational humorist and speaker, Lois Barth, to put in her two cents on the matter. She has some wonderful tips to help combat stress triggers and regain some of that lost "mojo." Lois takes a fun approach here and I hope her words of wisdom give you all something pleasant to think about. If you'd like, head over to www.loisbarth.org for more info on her work. Here is one of her videos:
Performance should be a fun thing. I encourage all of my students to re-direct their anxiety into a different emotion: excitement. Spinning the negative into a positive is tough, but it can be done, and you will be better for it! Thanks again to Lois Barth and www.loisbarth.org for the love, support and help!