Fear is a useful tool our bodies need and when fear is triggered, messages are being sent to all parts of our bodies to be on high alert. Ideally, we will take time to work through these fears and messages as a process and with patience. But that work takes time, and sometimes we need quick solutions for the present moment. Below are some strategies for working with and dissolving fear in the moment.
Deep breathing calms the nervous system. Focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes in any stressful situation. You might want to count your inhales and exhales, focusing on a longer exhale. 4 count inhale and 8 count exhale is a common option.
Research shows that body language can affect confidence and cortisol (the stress hormone). Practice standing in strong, open, confident postures prior to performance. This might look like standing tall, with shoulders back and open, or in superman pose with feet spread a bit apart and hands on hips.
What is the action of the piece? What is the goal? What does your character want? Focus on the need/desire/goal/agenda of the character.
There are many benefits to a gratitude practice. Scientists have found benefits such as stronger immune systems, higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, happiness and optimism, acting with more compassion, and feeling less lonely and isolated. All of these things can spill over into our music making and performing. Additionally, focusing on gratitude can help you relax tension and reduce the fight or flight response. Practicing regularly in daily life will help your brain and body activate gratitude under pressure. There are many examples of a gratitude practice:
Self-compassion is treating ourselves like we would treat a friend or loved one. Increasing research shows that practicing self-compassion increases emotional resilience. Self-compassion is composed of three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. For more information, check out Kristen Neff’s website, which has tons of research as well as some free guided meditations.
Nerves are seen by psychologists as increased energy. The label we put on it determines whether we feel it is good (excitement) or bad (nervous, anxious) energy. When feeling nervous, try saying out loud to yourself “I am excited”.
Plan one or two simple goals for a performance. Examples: really engage with the character of the piece; dig into the legato in m. 5-10; focus on calm breathing in a challenging spot; listen and enjoy the sounds of the accompaniment surrounding you in the interlude; what is the character of the accompaniment?