How to overcome stage fright
1. Stage fright is a panic or anxiety attack, initiated by the fight-or-flight response to a situation which the brain believes is a threat to us. The sudden release of stress hormones can lead to symptoms such as a pounding heart, feeling shaky or dizzy, nausea, shortness of breath and clammy hands, and a compelling urge to run away. It’s impossible to think clearly when you’re flooded with anxiety, so the first thing to do is take time out to physically calm down. Even just making a cup of tea or going for a short walk can help.
2. At its height, the sufferer can experience ‘brain freeze’ - that moment when your brain goes blank - increasing the sense of panic further if you’re just about to go on stage and have forgotten your lines! As soon as you feel anxiety and panic building try a simple breathing exercise, to help calm and slow you down, like this one: Breathe in through your nose and as deep into your stomach as is comfortable for a count of five and then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it out through your mouth for a count of five. Continue to do this for up to five minutes.
3. It’s pretty common. All sorts of performers, including orchestra musicians, CEO’s, actors and singers, can suffer with stage fright to varying degrees. Sometimes, simply continuing to work through the anxiety means that, over time, it subsides. Other times, people use medication to help them cope. Occasionally, a talented performer will simply give in and give up their dream. Famously, the great Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) retired early because of crippling stage fright.
4. If your anxiety is overwhelming and you’re thinking of giving up - don’t! Help is available. There are a number of good therapies out there, including hypnotherapy, which has a great track record in helping people overcome all kinds of anxiety.
5. If you decide to go for therapy it’s important to talk to your GP first, to rule out any possible medical cause. Once you’ve got the all-clear make sure you contact an accredited therapist. A good place to start is to check your therapist is with a professional body such as the Complementary and National Healthcare Council (www.cnhc.org.uk) or the Association of Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy (www.aphp.co.uk).
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