Working as a therapist within the music industry, and providing accredited training, I have to face people both in person and online. Most of the time, I am unaware of who will be attending, whether they will be engaged, want to talk or interact. It crosses my mind before the training, even when I have provided the course many times, that it might not be very good or that the person I’m delivering it to may not get as much out of it as I hope they will. Self-doubt starts to set in, but I reassure myself that it will be fine. Experience shows me that it always goes well, that feedback is positive and there is evidence that there is a demand. I am the only person providing this much-needed course. I feel confident again.
Being a musician is different. When I get up on stage as a gig is about to start, I feel confident. I have performed thousands of times, I know I will give a good performance. However, it is my baby, my creation, my songs. If I mess up the words, I’ll know. If my voice cracks, everyone will know. I no longer wallow in these things, but I used to feel disappointed in myself and it would impact on my mental health.
I have clients – even the most veteran performers – who vomit before a gig because they are so afraid. Talking through this, they may discover that they are worried about judgement from others, perhaps fellow musicians, or members of the audience. They may also be genuinely scared that they will forget words, or how to play, or get bow-shake and everyone will be able to see their perceived ‘weakness’. There is a huge stigma, especially in the classical world, about talking about these things admitting to performance anxiety or other mental health struggles.
The truth is, performance anxiety will affect most people at some point. Whether it is getting up in front of a wedding party and giving a speech, delivering a presentation over Zoom, or even in some social situations.
Performance anxiety is a manifestation of fear. Fear of judgement, fear of getting it wrong, fear around ability or talent, or that others are ‘better’ than you. For some people, there is a consequence around getting it wrong, a chance that they won’t be picked again and that they will lose work – whether that’s missing out on a promotion or not getting asked to headline a second time. Imposter syndrome plays a huge part in this, the belief that you should not be where you are, that you don’t deserve it and that you will be ‘found out.’
A good way to manage the issues around performance is to explore the fear and where it originates. You could write a journal, talk to a therapist or approach people you trust. Box breathing is also beneficial, breathing in for four seconds, holding for four and breathing out for four. Any grounding techniques such as meditation and yoga can also be good if you have the time and space.
It’s also important to remember that having performance anxiety can be useful. It can be used to enhance your performance, to stay present with it and even ‘bring it into the room’ by sharing with the audience that you are feeling anxious. While everybody is different, feeling zero anxiety may indicate a disconnection with yourself and the performance, which is less than ideal.
While there are a plethora of techniques that can help you deal with performance anxiety, always remember that there is only one you, you are an original and nobody else can offer what you can. Embrace that, use it and be proud.
Rachel Jepson is the founder of the UK’s first Centre for Mental Health in the Music industry