As you might already know, I am a big fan of mindfulness techniques and being more present in the moment when it comes to working with clients with performance anxiety (you might also want to read this previous blog post). This obviously doesn’t mean that mindfulness is the only, or even most effective, way of dealing with someone’s very individual way of experiencing stage fright. However, it is it worth trying before, or alongside, other interventions like therapy or medication. Multiple studies have reached the same conclusion (if you’re interested in those, don’t hesitate to contact me): Mindfulness can really help you to stop worrying.
While you can’t remove each and every stressor from your daily life, there are definitely steps you can try to feel more at ease with your performances.
Here’s a recent Facebook Live about mindfulness for musicians. It’s quite in-depth and long, so make sure you have some peace and quiet to watch it. You can download a little workbook to go with it at the bottom of this page.
Benefits of meditation and mindfulness techniques if you suffer from (performance) anxiety
Several researchers have been studying how meditation affects a wide variety of health issues, and the American Medical Association reports that meditation appears to be very effective in addressing anxiety and depression (it also helps with pain management, but that just as an aside).
But why is practising mindfulness helpful?
1. It focuses on NOW. Most anxiety tends to be centred around reliving the past or anticipating the future. Meditation encourages you to engage fully with the present moment. Your attention switches from fear and worst-case-scenarios to just “being”.
2. It (re)connects you with your body. Chronic anxiety takes a toll on your physical health by getting you into constant fight- or flight mode. Permanently raised adrenaline and cortisol levels aren’t good for anyone (while short bursts of the right amount of adrenaline are actually performance enhancing). Scanning your body can also help with relieving muscular tension. If you’re aware of those tense shoulders, you can do something about them (be it just lowering them, or looking into medium to long term strategies). Never forget that your mindset reflects on your body, and that you can also alter your state of mind by working physically – the two aren’t separate.
3. It changes your physical/neurological response. Stress hormones decrease and serotonin levels rise, both in the moment and long term.
How will practising mindfulness reduce my performance anxiety?
Meditation can be adapted to suit your individual needs. If you are unsure, I recommend taking a class so you initially have someone to guide you.
1. Start off gradually. The benefits of meditation can often be seen within a week or two, and even 10 minutes per day pay off. Set aside a brief time each day, and make that time part of your routine (e.g. just after getting up, just before going to bed, or just before your practice/rehearsal).
2. Separate facts from feelings. Mindfulness helps you to distinguish between actual events and your thoughts and emotions. As you train yourself to become more objective, you also gain more control over your reactions.
3. Develop more insight. Being mindful helps you to understand yourself and others. You may discover the root causes and triggers of your performance anxiety and how best to deal with them. Maybe you’ll want to replace negative expectations with a sense of curiosity. Perhaps you’ll pay more attention to the kindness and love you receive from your audience, instead of anticipating judgment or conflict.
4. See your doctor. While meditation and mindfulness are powerful, your physician may recommend treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy and/or medication if your anxiety persists. You can still practise meditation additionally.
What else can I do to deal with my performance anxiety?
Meditation is even more productive when you combine it with other healthy lifestyle choices. Take a look at your daily habits. Many of these suggestions aren’t rocket science, but I’ll mention them nevertheless:
1. Watch your diet. Processed foods and sugar aggravate anxiety and depression. Replace them with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.
2. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Too much coffee may give you the jitters, and self-medicating with alcohol usually backfires. See if cutting back makes a difference.
3. Exercise more. Physical activity is really helpful when dealing with anxiety and stress. That’s especially true for vigorous aerobic workouts like running, but every little helps – even a short walk every day. Obviously crosscheck with your physician in case you have any health conditions.
4. Rest and relax. A good night’s sleep and breaks during the day work wonders. Go to bed on a consistent schedule.
If anxiety is interfering with your life, I am here for you. Contact me to see how I can help you to perform without fear.
What is your experience with mindfulness techniques against performance anxiety? Leave your thoughts in the comments…
© Petra Borzynski 2019