Keeping performance anxiety under control

As a professional musician, I perform in front of people constantly. Sometimes it is in front of smaller audiences in a room or small theater, and sometimes in front of large groups of people in a performing arts center like the Mahaffey Theater, which can seat 2,000 people or more.

When you work very hard and spend countless hours perfecting a piece or pieces of music, it is easy to feel annxious about how the performance will go. Worries can start to creep in: what if I make a mistake, what if people don’t like the music, what if I forget the notes, what if I break a string, what if I trip while walking onto the stage? It is hard not to want the performance to be perfect, but we all know that no performance will ever go absolutely perfectly for any performer, anywhere.

Performers train themselves not to let doubts control their mind during performances. It is imperative to develop good  habits for remaining relaxed and focused during the big moments, and that involves training your mind during the small moments and over a long period of time so that the big moments don’t feel quite so momentous.

There are many helpful books for learning to stay calm and focused, written by other performers, psychologists, sports psychologists, doctors, and philosophers. I have found books written by and for tennis players and golfers are very relatable to performers, as these are individual sports and ones in which the player has a lot of non-playing downtime in which the mind can begin to let doubts take over.

The one piece of advice all books have in common is: stay positive. This doesn’t mean only in performances. The more positive you can train yourself to be on a daily basis, the easier it will be to remain positive and just work on focusing and relaxing before a big performance. This means training yourself not to engage in negative self-talk or sarcasm, or to get upset about life’s little annoyances like standing in line or catching a red light. It is also helpful to exercise and get out in nature, so going for walks outside is very helpful for the mind and body. Obviously, eating right, drinking lots of water, and getting adequate sleep are imperative as well.

Additional strategies also include centering and visualization, both of which help focus the mind and help envision and create a successful performance. Every performer creates routines which work for them, and every performer’s routine is different.

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