6 Nerves and stage fright

It is difficult to perform better than the image you have in your mind.

What is stage fright?

The “fight or flight” reaction, the way we react to danger, is usually not a case of mortal danger but rather finding yourself in a situation that creates fear or a sense of discomfort based on how you see yourself, and at times how others around you see you, and your abilities. It is an entirely physical reaction in which adrenalin starts to flow, increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, and also affects your stomach and intestines. To begin with, this reaction makes you more alert and concentrated, but if the reaction is too strong, then it becomes difficult to handle the body’s reactions and a feeling of “tunnel vision” develops. As long as the feeling of “fight” remains active, your motivation remains high, as does the desire to “get going” immediately. When the “flight” feeling takes over, however, this often results in low motivation and decreased self-confidence. In this case, it is important to re-establish the desire to “fight”. Do something physical – walk around, stamp on the floor and move your arms around. Try to say to yourself, “I dare to do this, I want to do this, I’m going to really go for it!”

Fear of failure

To stand on a stage and perform before an audience, or perhaps even take part in a lesson, can result in a feeling of insecurity, in which fear of failure can become far too strong. Even if your preparations have been thorough, there will still always be a certain feeling of insecurity. Training is required to be able to handle such situations time and time again, and to notice how things can go well despite a feeling of insecurity. However, ambition and the desire for a specific result can also become a way to balance this feeling of insecurity, which everyone has to some degree. At times it can be useful to face up to what a failure might mean – “Is this my only chance in life?”

Tips for dealing with nerves and stage fright

  • Feeling secure in the task and environment.
  • It is important to actively take part in the choice of task, to decide on something that you feel positive about and eager to do.
  • Train for the task with the help of all of your senses – be aware of how your body feels when all is going well. Look at the music. Use images and feelings in the music to turn it into a complete experience with great conviction. “Play” through the piece without the instrument but with complete concentration regarding every small movement, good training of the senses for your movements, and an awareness of where you are in space with your fingers and hands, etc.
  • A feeling of control. Think through how things will go, and convince yourself that you feel secure and that you want to get through this with your own strength.
  • Support from others and feedback. Perform the music in several different conditions and make sure to get concrete feedback – what was good, and what could be better?
  • Relaxation. Four-point relaxation: Sit comfortably with a straight back support. Close your eyes and feel your feet solidly on the floor. Your bottom should have good contact with the seat of the chair. Let your shoulders relax and sink. In your jaws, let there be a slight gap between the upper and lower rows of teeth. Take three deep breaths. After this, continue breathing with calm, deep breaths. Let your focus flow between these four points – feet, bottom, shoulders and jaws – over and over again for several minutes.
  • Mentally prepare the actual performance and begin with the relaxation exercise. Then go through the whole situation and use reinforcing phrases, such as, “I really want this. I know I can do this well. I want to go for it. It’s fine if I fail. I believe in myself.”