Can hypnosis help with performance anxiety?

Stage fright, or performance anxiety, describes the highly unpleasant emotional and physical state someone may experience when faced with performing in front of an audience — live or behind the camera. 

Young woman speaking into a microphone on stage

Whether you are a singer, dancer, actor, comedian or public performer/speaker of any kind, stepping onto a stage and into the spotlight can trigger a fear response, and in some cases, result in performance anxiety. How can someone who performs on stage for a living get so nervous, you might ask? Well, it’s more common than you think and has affected a number of famous performers including Adele, Rod Steward, Barbara Streisand and Pavarotti. 

What does performance anxiety look like?

The symptoms of performance anxiety can look very similar to general anxiety: tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, sweaty palms, hands or legs becoming shaky, a loss of focus and mental clarity, dry mouth and heart palpitations, to name a few.

Someone who suffers from stage fright tends to experience the onset of these symptoms in the lead-up to their performance or even while they are performing. It has been described as a debilitating discomfort that leaves you feeling extremely jittery and disconnected from your audience. 

Can hypnotherapy help with performance anxiety and stage fright?

Hypnotherapy can be a very effective form of treatment for helping performers overcome their stage fright. Over the course of sessions, the symptoms can be successfully alleviated and techniques can be used to help manage any jitters that sneak back in.

There have been many studies and clinical reviews which report hypnosis and relaxation techniques having dramatically reduced symptoms of anxiety. In fact, the British Medical Association concluded that hypnotherapy was not only effective but may be ‘the treatment of choice’ in dealing with anxiety and stress-related disorders. 

How can I calm my performance anxiety?

My top tip for calming performance anxiety is to have an anxiety-busting toolkit at the ready. You can use the tools to help keep the anxiety at bay or to manage symptoms in the moment. My top self-help techniques for your toolkit are:

EFT Tapping

Tapping is a rapid and gentle technique, developed by Dr Roger Callaghan, that you can use at any time. By gently tapping on certain points on your body, you can release the negative thoughts and get positive energy and calm flowing again. 

Grounding techniques 

There are many different ones out there, but my favourite is the colour game. Go through each of the colours in the rainbow and look for five objects in your environment of that colour. So simple, but very effective. 

Breathing techniques

My favourite is ‘hand on heart’ breathing as it incorporates your sense of touch as well as your breath and this helps to ground you. Place your hand on your heart and take five slow, deep breaths in and out, one for each letter in the word ‘heart.’ This resets your internal alarm system and signals to your brain that you are safe. 

What are the 7 steps to overcoming stage fright?

1. Calm yourself 

Before the performance, you need to get yourself into a calm and relaxed state, so find somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit or lay down. If you can, close your eyes for a moment.

2. Regulate your breathing

When we experience anxiety and panic, we go into an alarm state, otherwise known as ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. This state activates our sympathetic nervous system, causing us to experience all those unpleasant anxiety-related symptoms. When we practice breathing exercises, these reset and regulate our parasympathetic nervous system — our ‘rest and digest’ functions. This signals to our brain that we are safe and the symptoms subside. 

3. Use your imagination

Allow your mind to take you back to a safe and happy memory of a time when you felt confident and relaxed. Use your five senses to really bring this memory back to life: what could you see? What sounds could you hear? What were you wearing? What were you doing? As you remember this memory in detail, you will release the positive feelings you experienced on the day, and this can be reactivated when you next perform. 

4. Find positive affirmations

Creating two or three meaningful positive affirmations can be so powerful. Be your own cheerleader and repeat your affirmations often so they become part of your daily script. These could be as simple as “I am calm and I am confident” or “I am at my best when speaking to a large crowd.”

5. Practice positive pre-paving

Spending a few minutes before you go to sleep, mentally planning out how you want your next performance to go, is another powerful tool that will enable you to overcome your stage fright.

Be still and quiet, close your eyes and imagine yourself getting dressed and ready for the performance. Now, imagine the look of confidence and excitement on your face. Next, imagine how you want to feel when you walk out on that stage. Visualise the audience’s positive reactions towards you and the performance being a complete success.

Holding these positive thoughts in mind as you get closer to your performance will ensure you are focusing on the outcome you want instead of the nerves and anxiety of past times. 

6. Shift your mindset

Your mindset is the key to overcoming performance anxiety. Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, developed the growth and fixed mindset theory, which can determine your rate of success, depending on your current frame of mind and your belief system.

A fixed mindset is when you believe you can’t do something, while a growth mindset is believing that with effort and work, you can achieve.

So, what’s your mindset around performing like? Do you believe you will always get nervous and never quite be good enough when performing, or do you believe you can overcome the nerves, apply some effective strategies and shine on stage once more? 

7. Bank the good stuff

The final step to overcoming your stage fright is to keep a note of all your successful performances. You can do this mentally or by writing it down in a journal. Each time you have a positive experience, bank it! Even if the first half of your performance didn’t quite go to plan but it improved and ended well, write down the good bits. 

The more you look for the positives, the more good parts you will experience in the future. Reading back through your positive performance notebook will give you that all-important boost you need if those nerves ever creep back in. 

Let’s face it, we’re all human and feeling nervous in some situations is completely normal. It’s when the nerves become too much, causing distress and affecting your day-to-day life that action towards change is needed. Seeing a hypnotherapist to help you overcome your performance anxiety will make a positive difference, not only in your career but ultimately, your life. 

Are you looking to work with a professional? We have over 1,700 hypnotherapists offering support with public speaking. Simply browse profiles until you find someone you resonate with and send them an email.

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Written by Danielle Killick
Danielle Killick is a counsellor, hypnotherapist and Hypno4Children practitioner.
Written by Danielle Killick
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