Do You Have Musical Performance Anxiety?
Do you think you have musical performance anxiety? Some people with social anxiety who are musicians struggle with performing in front of an audience.
Musical performance anxiety is a bit like having a public speaking phobia. The impact of anxiety on your performance is very real. But at the same time, people might have told you that “it’s all in your head,” or you just need to “snap out of it.”
This type of advice isn’t very helpful, since the very nature of the anxiety cycle is that it perpetuates itself. Instead, there are things you can do that are more helpful. I’ll outline those at the end of this post.
Do you criticize yourself before, during, and after a performance? This can be a sign that you are struggling with musical performance anxiety.
You might have thoughts like, “I know I’m going to do poorly,” “Everyone can see I’m anxious,” or “I performed so badly tonight.”
This self-critical thinking only keeps your anxiety going and makes it hard to concentrate and relax.
I remember as a music student in high school, worrying long before an examination about how it would go. And, that worrying continued right through the performance and in the aftermath. If this is you, you might have performance anxiety too.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
In addition to what you are thinking in your head, musical performance anxiety involves physical symptoms. The most common ones are an increased heart rate, shaking, and sweating.
All of these interfere with your performance! It’s no wonder musical performance anxiety can be so hard to deal with.
As a music student, I remember all too well the racing heart and shortness of breath that came with my musical performance anxiety. It’s really hard to play a wind instrument when you can’t breathe!
And I also remember taking piano lessons and having my fingers shake. My teacher used to try to figure out what was wrong with them. Of course, I did not tell her. I knew all along what was wrong.
Over or Under Preparation
Do you over-prepare for musical performances because of your anxiety? Or do you under-prepare because no matter what you do, anxiety ruins your performance?
If either of these sounds like you, you might have musical performance anxiety. How awful is it that the more you prepare, the worse outcome you have?
It’s completely the opposite of how it should be. You should feel as though you can put in the work, and have a performance that shows it. Not one that is hidden behind your anxiety.
How about thinking that you can read the audience’s mind? That’s another common problem for people with performance anxiety.
You might see someone frowning in the audience and think you’ve done someone wrong. Someone yawns and you know that you’ve bored them.
As much as you can’t read the audience’s mind, it probably feels like you can. That’s just a sign of your anxiety, not an indisputable fact.
Feelings of Dread
Donny Osmond has recounted his feelings of dread as a musician.
“There are times I remember before I walked on stage, where if I had the choice of walking on stage or dying,” he said, “I would have chosen death.”
Have you experienced those feelings of dread? It’s as though you have an overwhelming urge to escape the situation at any cost.
That’s musical performance anxiety.
Do you worry weeks or months ahead of a musical performance? This is a common sign of performance anxiety.
I can remember worrying months in advance! That’s no way to live your life.
A bit of worry and apprehension is okay. That propels you forward and gets you working.
But too much anxiety and worry, and you’ve just made yourself miserable. I know it’s a hard trap to pull yourself out of, but it can be done.
Feeling Like You Are “Just Holding On”
Have you ever had that feeling like you were “just holding on” through a performance. As though you needed it to be over as quickly as possible, so that you could end your pain?
That’s musical performance anxiety. It’s the same anxiety that Barbra Streisand experienced when she forgot the words to a song during a performance in Central Park in the 70’s.
It took her decades to recover from that experience. You are not alone.
Finally, perfectionism is often a glaring sign of musical performance anxiety. That feeling as though you must do everything exactly right.
It’s not so much that there’s something wrong with wanting to do a good job. That’s admirable.
It’s the idea of holding yourself up to some impossible standard that creates an anxious state in your body. Your making it hard on yourself when you do this. Ironically, allowing for some mistakes will probably help you do a better job. Because you’ll be more relaxed.
So what can you do about musical performance anxiety?
Medication. Therapy. Self-help.
I’d suggest if you have insurance, go see your doctor and ask about a diagnosis or treatment for social anxiety disorder. (Performance anxiety falls under this umbrella).
Therapy such as systematic desensitization, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), etc. can be very helpful.
You can also ask about medication such as beta blockers. These are taken before a performance to eliminate all those physical symptoms like the racing heart and shaking.
Finally, you can opt for self-help. I’d suggest finding ways to relax yourself before a performance and buying a good book with CBT strategies. If you’d like more resources for all of this, sign up for my email list at the top or bottom of this page! You’ll get a weekly email with tips and tricks as well as access to my free resource library.
How about you? Have you struggled with musical performance anxiety? I’d love to hear your story below.