Dealing with Stage Fright: The Ultimate Guide (2019 edition)

In this article, I offer y0u some straight talking about stage fright. I’m going to tell you things that you’ve likely never heard before, ones that upset conventional beliefs.

Keep an open mind and I think you’ll appreciate the truth in what I say.  That’s the first important step in finding your way beyond your nervousness, changing how you view this menace.

—Dr. Fish 

The clock is ticking down to an important performance, presentation, or competition. You have to do well and you’re sure that you will. You know what you’re doing, and you’ve been preparing diligently. Everything will be fine. You’ve got this.

Except there’s one problem, and it’s a big one.

You know that fearsome monster known as stage fright is going to appear and spoil things for you. (You’re even nervous thinking about being nervous.)

Your heart is going to race, your fingers are going to tremble, and you’re not going to be able to concentrate completely. Nervous thoughts and feelings are going to distract you.

It’s going to suck, big time.

You’re not going to do as well as you know you could, and it’ll be embarrassing. Mr./Ms. Hot Stuff is going to be tripped up by the same thing that undermines fifth graders at spelling bees. W0rse, it’s going to be in front of an audience!

What should be an enjoyable even triumphant moment in the spotlight is going to wind up being an ordeal. Forget about doing well. You’ll be happy to just survive.

Why Did I Wait?

You know you shouldn’t have waited to do something about your stage fright until just before the performance, presentation, or competition, but that’s how life works. You deal with something when it confronts you. It’s human nature.

And what can be done about stage fright, anyway?

There doesn’t seem to be a good way to get over this menace. At least, you’ve never heard of one.  You just have to grin and bear it, right?

You did find an article online titled “Overcome Stage Fright Once and For All. It sounded way too good to be true, especially since the author’s sage advice was to practice a lot, do what you know, and learn from your mistakes.

That’s going to get rid of your nervousness forever? Come on.

What You Need

Ok, so maybe it’s your bad that you’ve waited until you’re facing a performance, presentation, or competition to do something about your stage fright, but the fact remains. You need help.

What’s more, the solution has to:

  • be effective
  • offer immediate results
  • be simple and straightforward

The simple and straightforward part is key. Of what use is an effective stage fright solution that shows immediate results if it’s too complicated to rely on when you need it the most when you’re in the throes of nervousness?

Why You Get Nervous

Fortunately, there is such a solution to stage fright. We’ll get to it soon, but it’s helpful to understand something about the causes of performance anxiety, as it is formally known, to appreciate the effective answer to it.

Stage fright can rear its ugly head whenever three factors are at play:

  • You perform, present, or compete in front of others
  • The audience judges how well you do (or you at least feel they are)
  • The judgment represents some sort of threat if it’s negative

The threat part of this model is crucial. No threat, no stage fright. That’s why you don’t get nervous when you try your performance or presentation out on your household pet. Fluffy represents absolutely no threat to you.

Other times, the threat is more subtle and can require boring down through a number of surface worries to uncover it using a technique called the Downward Arrow. One stage fright sufferers often mention is losing the respect of others.

The “audience” in the three-factor model of stage fright can take on many forms, from a formal group of concertgoers in an auditorium or sports fans seating in the bleachers during a game/match to a group of co-workers in a conference room or an executive interviewing you for a job.

You’re Not Broken

Whatever the threat is, it’s almost always legitimate. It’s what I call a true threat. You might exaggerate its potential consequences, but the threat is based in reality. As such, you almost always have a good reason to be at least a little nervous when yourself getting stage fright.

So, don’t waste a moment worrying that there is something wrong with you for being anxious. You’re not broken. In fact, getting nervous shows that you’re perfect, perfectly human.

Getting nervous shows that you’re perfect, perfectly human.

Sometimes, the threat at the heart of a performance, presentation, or competition is clear and obvious, like when you’re auditioning for an important opportunity or playing in a championship game. Do well and you’re a hero. Blow it and you’re zero, or at least you’ll feel that way.

Other times, the threat is more subtle and covered up by layers of surface worry. For example, you might worry about forgetting a line of dialogue if you’re an actor in a play. That probably wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it can make you nervous if it’s a surface manifestation of something bigger, a deep danger.

You can uncover the deep danger at the heart of your stage fright by using a technique called the downward arrow. You start with your surface worry and then ask a series of “If that happened, then what” questions until you reach your core fear.

Those who try the downward arrow technique are often surprised at what you find.

A Natural Response

There’s something more to understand about stage fright. The symptoms you experience are quite natural.

Here’s what happens.

When your brain perceives a threat, the autonomic nervous system prepares the body to respond, mainly through the release of adrenalin into the bloodstream. That’s what makes your heart pound, your fingers to tremble, and butterflies take up residence in your stomach. One way or another, they’re all related to the body preparing to flee or fight in the face of the danger.

The autonomic response is immediate and largely unconscious. Consider your startled reaction to an expected noise like a car backfiring.

The fight or flight response plays an important role in keeping us safe in a world of physical danger. However, it does nothing useful to protect us when we have to stand in front of others and perform, present, or compete.

Dead Man’s Goal

You can see then that stage fright is a natural and understandable phenomenon. In fact, it’s just as natural as sadness or anger and just as impossible to totally eradicate from your life.

Just as there are times you’ll always get sad or angry if the conditions are right, there will always be times when performing, presenting, or competing in public makes you nervous.

So, don’t try to find a one-and-done cure for stage fright. It doesn’t exist. Therapists would call trying to find one a dead man’s goal, something only a dead person can achieve.

Acceptance

Natural or not, understandable or not, stage fright can still create a problem for you. It can create an unworkable situation in which you can’t accomplish what you want. That leaves you feeling stuck.

Fortunately, there is a way beyond your nervousness.

It’s not found in trying to conquer or beat it. Ironically, it’s found in accepting your stage fright. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that but it’s true.

The surefire way beyond the clutches of your anxiety if by learning to accept it. It won’t make your nervousness disappear, but it will loosen its grasp on you.

Mindfulness

Natural or not, understandable or not, stage fright can still create a problem for you. It can create an unworkable situation in which you can’t accomplish what you want. That leaves you feeling stuck.

Fortunately, there is a way beyond your nervousness.

It’s not found in trying to conquer or beat it. Ironically, it’s found in accepting your stage fright. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that but it’s true.

The surefire way beyond the clutches of your anxiety if by learning to accept it. It won’t make your nervousness disappear, but it will loosen its grasp on you.

Mindfulness

The type of acceptance I’m talking about is called mindfulness.

You may know that mindfulness has been all the rage for a few years now, but it’s is much more than a fad. Important scientific research has established its effectiveness in helping with a range of issues, including anxiety.

Such effectiveness has led to a number of prominent businesses and organizations to adopt mindfulness for their employees.

What is Mindfulness?

So, what is this mindfulness that has become so popular? Here’s what the ZZZ has to say:

Essentially, that means concentrating fully on what you want to do and accept any thoughts or feelings that intrude rather than trying to resist them.

The power of this simple technique has been long understood by such ancient traditions has yoga and Zen. It’s only the 21st century that the rest of the world is catching on.

The Unwanted Guest

There’s a wonderful allegory about the power of mindfulness. It involves an obnoxious, foul-mouthed neighbor who keeps crashing a party you’re throwing at your house.

As hard as you try, he always finds a way in by sneaking through a door, climbing your back fence, or the like. The worst part is that you spend all of your energy in trying to keep out rather than enjoying your party.

What’s the answer to this dilemma? It’s found in accepting the party crasher. Just let him come in and concentrate on enjoying yourself. He may still be unpleasant, but you’ll likely find that he isn’t as bad as you had feared. He won’t spoil the party.

Stage Fright

What does this allegory have to do with stage fright?

You can easily to see the party as your performance, presentation, or competition in this story, and the unwanted guest as your stage fright.

Remember, there are times you’re going to get nervous when you perform, speak, or compete. That’s natural, even understandable given what I told you above.

So, the unwanted guest of nervousness is going to get in. The question is what will you do about it when it does?

You could try to actively resist your anxiety, but that’s just going to take your concentration away from performing, speaking, or competing.

Trying to think your way out of your nervousness can even lead to what therapists call fusion. Your thoughts and your nervousness fuse together like two pieces of melted plastic. That’s no good.

It’s Too Easy

I can hear your disbelief. “You’re telling me that all I have to do to make my stage fright disappear is to concentrate on what I’m doing and ignore my nervous thoughts and feelings?”

Yes, but I didn’t say anything about your stage fright magically disappearing.

Your anxiety may still be there, but it’ll fade into the background. Its grip on you will loosen

I did say that

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.