Dealing with Anxiety

The other day I saw an article on essential tips for public speaking by someone whose posts I usually like and think very valuable. They listed about 15 different things to think about before performing, some of which I think are great – like enjoy what you are doing – others I question, but that’s not really my issue.

The bit of the article that really troubled me was the sheer number of things this person was advising people to think about.

One of the biggest issues for singers, and performers of every type, is anxiety around their performance – before, during and/or after. Anxiety is nothing to be dismissed, it causes all sorts of issues, from forgetting words to tension in the body/voice, avoiding the audience, all the way to fully fledged stage fright.

Singer’s anxiety is invariably down to the fact that they want to get it right and they fear how people will judge them. This makes them feel vulnerable. The classic response to this feeling of vulnerability is to seek to take control, believing if they are in control their anxiety will reduce and they will feel better and perform better. If you think about it, we talk of voice control & breath control all the time, amongst others.

The aim of to do lists, like in the article, is to try give people that sense of control. Giving them things to do to ‘regain’ control. Their intent is clearly good, but are they actually making things worse? Is aiming to be in control the solution to feeling vulnerable? Does it get rid of the anxiety?

The problem with lists is people then go on stage with their head full of things they should or shouldn’t do. They become aware of they worries and the potential for ‘failing’ and they can’t think straight. Plus their head is so full of should & shouldn’ts, they have no space for the really important bits, i.e. what they are singing and why they are singing it. It turns them inwards. They are simply thinking about themselves and trying to ‘do’ everything right. It actually exacerbates their anxiety.

What is the best way of dealing with anxiety then?

For me, control is not binary. If you are not in control it does not mean you are out of control, and trying to ‘take control’ simply brings tension, overthinking and mental clutter. The real secret to dealing with anxiety is learning to be comfortable with the uncertainty that exists whether we like it or not, and letting go of the desire to control.

The solution to anxiety is not to take control, but to observe, to connect and to enjoy.

Instead of turning inward in an attempt to control, turn outward to the audience, to the music, to the words. If you can find the joy in all of those it will help you ride the waves of uncertainty that exist in performing, a bit like a surfer, and you will enjoy it so much more.

Keep it simple:

  1. Learn to really love your piece, every note, every word, every emotion. Connect with it.
  2. Learn to love your audience. They are just people caught up in their own lives wanting to hear you sing for one of a multitude of reasons. Connect with them.
  3. Learn to love yourself. How you feel, physically and emotionally, what you are thinking, and how much you love to sing. Learn to connect with what is going on for you, and be kind to yourself.

It isn’t easy (I’m still on the journey) but each step you take towards each of these goals will reduce the anxiety you feel, help you let go and lean in to really enjoying what you do.

If you would like to join a supportive community of singers & performers who want to let go and enjoy their performing more, and achieve greater success, why not join my facebook group The Fearless Performer. Each week I cover a different topic, post interesting articles and give you space to talk about your challenges.

p.s. This works for public speaking too!