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CONFIDENT MUSIC PERFORMANCE: Part 2 - Symptoms of Fear and Why We Feel Afraid

Cracking the Fear Code

 

Hey there, fabulous performers!

 

Let's chat about fear, the quirky natural emotion that's totally normal and kind of like your backstage buddy. It's like your personal alarm system, nudging you to pay attention and dodge potential mishaps. Picture this: fear of being followed? You'll be on high alert. Nervous about flubbing your act? You'll be rehearsing like a pro. Fear, in moderation, is your trusty sidekick, keeping you sharp, amped up, and focused.

 

Taming the Adrenaline Beast

But when fear gets out of control, it's like a wild rollercoaster ride to Panic Town, with Anxiety Avenue as a pit stop. You might notice symptoms like dry mouth, shaky breath, feeling like you're in a breath-holding contest mid-performance, or rushing through your gig and losing control. Your muscles might tense up, your knees do the shaky dance, or your brain can pull a vanishing act.


Standing performers often have to deal with quivering knees, which can make you lock them to stay upright—only to create more tension in your body! In the days leading up to a performance, you might experience nightmares, sleepless nights, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. And right before you go onstage, you might have a queasy stomach, shaky hands, or even an urgent need for the toilet. These symptoms are part of the 'fight or flight' reaction—your body's way of preparing for a threat. Your heart races, your blood pressure skyrockets, and your brain gets a VIP blood supply while your tummy gets ghosted. While these reactions are meant to protect you, they can sometimes feel overwhelming, making it hard to stay calm and poised.

 

When stress hits, your body goes into overdrive, causing you to sweat and feel flushed. You might rock the icy-cold, clammy hands look, which isn't ideal for playing instruments. Even with top-notch breath skills, stress can turn you into a hyperventilating balloon or a breath-holding statue. These reactions might pop up not just during your show, but even during the pre-show mental warm-up.

 

Adrenaline is the culprit behind these symptoms. With awareness, you can learn to channel this energy into sharpening your focus and heightening your emotional intensity. Timing and preparedness are key. Recognise when your body is reacting to stress, pace yourself, and hit the brakes when you need. Often, once the show begins, the adrenaline high kicks in and you realise the anticipation was the worst part. I get this ALL THE TIME before going on rollercoasters.

 

Dealing with Success and Failure

 

So, in our society, there's this 'tall poppy syndrome' where being too awesome can sometimes make you a moving target. Talented performers might hide their skills (particularly when young) for fear of ridicule. Unlike sports champs, who are encouraged to be confident from a young age, performers often have to downplay their talents. Musicians face constant criticism, which can be tough, especially for singers whose instrument is their voice—an intrinsic part of them.


Performance anxiety tends to sneak up when you least expect it, usually bringing along a baggage of negative thoughts. You might feel more pressure performing for a small, critical audience than for a large, supportive one. Many of these pressures stem from past experiences and our overactive imagination. We tend to remember our worst performances vividly, while forgetting our successes. And even after a successful performance, self-doubt can sneak in, whispering and building pressure to keep up that level of greatness. Composer Leonard Bernstein struggled with a creative block after the success of West Side Story, fearing he couldn't reach those heights again.

 

Why are we so hard on ourselves? It's because we live in a critical society that expects success but does not always give praise. We all fall short of our own standards at times. This might be because we set unrealistic goals for ourselves. Failing hurts, especially if we tie our worth to the applause meter. A lukewarm review or less enthusiastic clapping can feel like personal failure. But hey, perfection is overrated. A few slip-ups won't bring the curtain down, so let's not waste energy worrying ourselves into mishaps.


Remember, everyone experiences fear and anxiety. It's part of being human and a performer.

 

TO BE CONTINUED... Part 3 - Unleashing Your Inner Genius - A Crash Course

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