While performance anxiety is one of the most common phobias in the United States, chances are many of us are able to calm ourselves and carry on after experiencing it. For some, that’s not the case. Before performing, many artists have cited being so anxious that they get physically sick, like Adele. Others, such as Barbara Streisand, often refuse to perform in public settings because they can’t face their anxiety.
This social anxiety can alter people’s lives, as it may cause a person to get up and leave before a nerve wracking interview, be too afraid to share their talents, or crumble under pressure in a work presentation. It’s a terrifying feeling that is often overlooked or brushed off.
Luckily, there is science behind this madness. When a person is stressed, their adrenal glands produce adrenaline that rushes into the bloodstream. This causes the body to awaken and, in turn, the person tightens up, sweats, shakes, experiences dry mouth, has shortness of breath and can begin to feel dizzy. These reactions are what is commonly known as a fight or flight response.
For some, this fight or flight response can turn into a full blown panic attack. Clearly, stage fright is no joke.
TEDx speaker and founder/CEO of Unsplash Mikael Cho, says “Humans, social animals that we are, are wired to worry about social reputation...public speaking can threaten it.”
So how can we fight this immediate gut reaction that is stage fright? Cho tells us that first, we have to change our perception. The fear that we will be judged or laughed at if we get up in front of others, or that we won’t do our best on tasks such as school presentations or job interviews, isn’t just all in our head. We have to remember that “it’s a natural, hormonal full body reaction by an autonomic nervous system on auto pilot,” Cho asserts.
Not to mention, social anxiety is genetic. Some people just get more nervous than others. Once we understand that we can’t control our body’s adrenaline release, we have to focus on what we can control: practice. The more we practice, the more confident we are in ourselves and the less anxious we’ll get before going on stage.
Next, learning techniques to reduce stress can also greatly improve stage fright. Exercises like stretching and deep breathing will help as they trigger a relaxing response in your hypothalamus, combatting its natural fight or flight defense.
People can also work against social anxiety by taking care of their health and avoiding activities or substances that can increase anxiety levels. Caffeine and alcohol are both known to increase anxiety, so staying as far away from those, while also being sure to eat right and get enough sleep, can greatly affect a performance.
Also, it’s common for a person to try to ignore or fight their anxiety in attempts to lessen it. However, this can create an adverse, unexpected reaction. If the adrenaline that is built up in a person’s body isn’t released, all that pent up stress and anxiety become trapped, making getting around it much more difficult. Instead, learn to embrace the fear. Expect that you will probably be stage fright quite often and accept it. This will allow you to become familiar with the negative reactions in your body and realize that with time, they will pass, making it easier for you to stay in control.
Finally, establish and develop your focus. When you are in a job interview, your focus isn’t on yourself, it’s on portraying your skills and accomplishments to a recruiter. In public speaking, again the performance shouldn’t be on how well you’re doing, but rather on engaging and persuading an audience. When performing, your focus should be your craft, not what the audience is thinking.
To comfort yourself even further, realize that 75 percent of people are affected by stage fright. And if you’re a fan of the “Celebrities, they’re just like us!” sections of magazines, then relax in knowing that thousands of well-known people (Jay-Z, Emma Watson, and Jim Carrey, to name a few) all have experienced stage fright.
Next time you feel your hypothalamus working against you, remember that it’s natural and you aren’t alone. Don’t let it stop you from doing what you are so prepared to do. Don’t overcome, adapt.
Kate Durocher is a TV host, writer, and editor living in Los Angeles. She is the Press Outreach Manager for Red Cup Agency and also works in editorial for “L.A. Weekly.” Kate also contributes articles for Melissa Woods’ Facebook page. The Facebook page supports Melissa Woods’ novel “Getting Past Anxiety.” Kate graduated from the University of Southern California in 2015 with a degree in broadcast and digital journalism.
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