5 Coping Skills to Deal With Stage Fright

Oct 24, 2018

We’ve all been there at least a few times.

Your breathing speeding sup, your pulse races. Sweat rolls down your forehead and makes your palms clammy. You feel sick to your stomach, and when you draw in breath to play, it comes out as shaky as your knees.

These are very common symptoms of stage fright, also known as performance anxiety. And they’re an involuntary response that millions of people have to deal with whenever they’re faced with speaking or performing in front of a group. The “spotlight effect” – the belief that people are paying more (negative) attention to you than they really are – arises, as an evolutionary hold-over from our “fight or flight” response. In the case of stage fright, your brain and body actually perceive a danger from being the focus of attention.

Stage fright is a normal response, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to just leave it. Performance anxiety can actually impact your academic life, career, and even your everyday personal life. It reduces self-esteem, can hold you back from taking on leadership roles, and keep your from doing the things you love, like playing music.

If you’re prone to stage fright, we’ve got 5 proven ways to help take control of the problem before it takes control of you!

  1. Pretend You’re Excited

You might find this hard to believe, but as far as your body is concerned, there is no difference between nervousness and excitement – it’s your brain that decided if it’s a good thing or a bad thing based on context. You can change that context by pretending that you’re not nervous at all, and excited instead. This gives you a way to focus your nervous energy, and re-frame the situation to give yourself a positive spin.

This can even be better than trying to calm yourself down. Telling yourself to be calm when you’re already full of adrenaline is sort of useless because there’s nowhere for that energy and those feelings to go. On the other hand, re-framing your nervousness as excitement will allow you to better control those feelings.

  1. Just Worry About the First 5 Minutes

As it turns out, it’s really only the first few minutes of any kind of presentation or performance that tend to be the most stressful. Once you’re through that and on your way to the rest, you’re much more likely to settle down into your role in front of your audience.

Keeping this in mind can be a huge advantage. When practicing and preparing, regardless of whether you’re giving a speech or performing a concerto, make sure you have your first few minutes down cold – the rest will follow organically (of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t practice the rest too).

When it comes time for you to get up on the stage, remind yourself that you only need to get through the first 5 minutes. Making sure that you know that you’re fully prepared for those first minutes will give you confidence to get out there.

You probably won’t even notice those first minutes passing by before you find your groove.

  1. Focus on What You’re Doing

Having stage fright means that it can often create a sort of negative feedback loop in your mind: Before or during your presentation, the nervous part of your mind starts to think about what you must look like to your audience. From there, your mind decided that every little thing the audience does is a negative reflection of you. If someone yawns or glances at their watch, your mind leaps to call it an utter disaster. Before long, you’ve convinced yourself that your audience is bored, and that your performance is bad.

The best way to break out of this loop is to keep your focus off yourself. Remember that your audience isn’t here to necessarily see you. If you’re part of a group of musicians, the audience is there to see you all, and hear your music. Even if you’re a soloist, the audience wants to hear the and share in the music. Concentrate on your music above all else, and you’ll soon forget that there even was a loop going on in your mind.

  1. Visualize the Worst Possibility

Those of use who suffer through stage fright tend to expect the worst. And due to that, you’ve probably had people tell you to “Focus on the positive!” or “Just relax, calm down.” Our society tends to stigmatize people who fixate on potential problems, so, if you’re like most people, you keep your fears to yourself.

The problem with that is that trying to avoid fears tends to only make them stronger. In fact, the best way to cope with your nerves might be to face them head on. Instead of repressing everything, allow yourself to visualize the worst possible outcome, from tripping on the way to your seat, to making a huge mistake the entire audience will hear, to completely blanking on your solo.

Then – and here’s the important part – come up with ways to cope with each of these situations. Rehearse these situations and incidents in your mind until you feel like you’ve got a handle on them. That way, you can begin your performance with confidence that you’ve prepared and are ready to handle anything that comes your way.

  1. Know Yourself

A habit of stage fright can indicate a wide range of personality traits from perfectionism to social anxiety. People who need to be liked, as well as those who fear being vulnerable, are likely to suffer through some stage fright. Likewise, for those who have low self-esteem, a desire to control every aspect of their life, or a fear of failure – or success.

One of the key components to overcoming your stage fright is understanding the underlying reasons for it; your personal fears. Strengthening your self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-confidence will help you to not put so much pressure on yourself every time you walk onto a stage.

Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire cure-all for stage fright. If you experience stage fright, there’s a good chance you might always at least feel a butterfly or two in your stomach before you begin. The good news is that understanding and recognizing your triggers will help you apply the right coping skills to manage your emotions and fear.