When FEAR strikes - a heart centered antidote

I remember performing Gershwin's Three Preludes shortly after graduating college. I love those pieces! But all I could think about during that performance was that I wore the wrong dress because my right leg was shaking so badly and surely everyone could see it and clearly that was ruining my performance. 

I don't remember the dress I was wearing, but I have a visceral memory of trying my darndest to stop my leg from shaking, with no success whatsoever. It simply kept jittering away, stealing my focus from the actual music.

I wrote last week about author Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on approaching fear. Fear is boring, because it is the same thing every day. And it has one word – STOP!

Making space for fear, not fighting it, letting it do its thing while you continue on doing your thing, is a great practice for life.

But what do you do when intense fear strikes while under pressure?

Like crazy racing heart while onstage? Or feeling like you might faint in your audition? Or mad leg shaking while performing?

Today I want to talk about using Gratitude and other heart centered spiritual approaches as an antidote to fear.

Super cool research is under way about the Heart as a second brain in our body (check out this interview for a good synopsis, or this website for more ways to work with your heart).

More than half the cells in the heart are neural cells, the same that are in the brain, meaning the heart can think. With this 'thinking' the heart affects all systems and organs in the body, including the limbic system, the area of the brain that is trigger by fear. (One side note, the brain’s electromagnetic field is so strong, it can even affect the emotions of those around you!) It is the limbic system that puts us into fight, flight or freeze mode. That’s when we get the crazy symptoms of anxiety, stress and fear, like the racing heart, feeling like you might pass out, sweaty any part of your body, jumpy legs, difficulty breathing.

Connecting to the heart, therefore, can help our limbic system to stay relaxed and calm, even under pressure.

Here’s how to use heart centered Gratitude or a spiritual practice as an antidote to fear:

  1. Think of something specific to your situation for which you feel authentic gratitude. Center the gratitude for these moments in your heart, breath into it, and gently let it spread through your whole body. I find that allowing gratitude to spread works much better than trying to force it. Releasing tension is a great by-product of this practice. 


  1. Prior to practicing, take time to connect with these moments in the music. Visualize yourself playing them at your best. Feel what it’s like in your body to have success in these moments. Turn inward and center into this feeling. Allow the gratitude to flow throughout your body.
  1. As you make this part of your practice routine, your body becomes habituated to the energy of gratitude. Just as you practice technique, you need to practice how you want your body and brain to feel during performance.
  1. Use some practice run-throughs to keep gratitude flowing as your primary goal. Up the ante by playing in front of a friend or roommate or schoolmate. Perform for a recording device. Come to a Rep Rally.
  1. When fear strikes, acknowledge its presence a la Elizabeth Gilbert “Oh hello Fear. You’re here again.” And then rather than pushing fear away, try shifting your attention to gratitude and see what happens. There can be space for both, and the gratitude will help you function, even with the presence of fear.

I’d love to know how you deal with fear in the moment. Drop me a note via email or comment here on the blog.