Performance Anxiety

I have worked with performers to help them manage performance anxiety, musicians and actors.  Anxiety is a very natural thing – often felt in the body or manifesting as thought processes, or both – but this can get in the way of performing to our best ability. This blog post is going to explain a little bit about how that works.

So how do we create anxiety which causes us to move from the intellectual sensible part of the brain to the anxious ‘primitive’ part?

Anxiety is caused by negative thinking. It is not the events in ones lives that necessarily cause the perception of crisis. It is our thought patterns surrounding the events that cause this to happen.  

Every negative thought we have is converted into anxiety. We can create anxiety by negatively forecasting the future, for example; “I will never get that role”, I’ll never reach my full potential as an actor”, “I’ll never walk on stage again”, “Will they like me?” to worrying about that audition that you have coming up in a few weeks’ time.

Here we should remember that the mind can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. Intellectually you know the audition is going to go OK, they generally do, but being you, you start thinking about things going wrong. You think about it 50 times? The actual meeting goes quite well but you have attended 51 meetings and 50 have been disasters.

We can negatively introspect about the past. Thinking about that role that you didn’t get, or that performance that didn’t go to plan. Letting our past dictate our present and become our story, our way of life.

Now, every negative thought that we have is accumulated and stored. We say it is stored in a stress bucket. Thankfully, we do have a method for emptying our bucket and it is known as REM sleep, rapid eye movement. At night we re-run events of the day and change them from being an emotional memory to a narrative memory. A memory we have control over.

You are familiar with how REM works. Your director upsets you in the afternoon and you really are upset. You tell your partner and he says forget about it but you really can’t. You are thinking about it when you go to bed.

During your REM sleep you will re-run the event metaphorically, through dreaming, and you will move it from the primitive brain to the intellectual brain were you have control over it. So when you wake up in the morning you might well have forgotten about that situation, you might not but you will certainly be saying something like “How do I allow these people to upset me so?”

If you are anxious, worrying about an audition, or negatively retrospection about how you came across on stage, then you may find that you get less sleep during the night. Therefore you may not be getting enough REM sleep.  You end up piling too much into your stress bucket, and sometimes it will overflow! Sadly, for one reason or another, REM is restricted to about 20% of our sleep patterns. If we try and overdo it then your mind will wake you up. You know when it is your mind waking you up because you wake up wide awake and feel quite miserable. Often we can’t get back to sleep again.

Now we are in the grip of a bit of a vicious circle. The more you have in your bucket, the more time you will spend in your primitive brain and the more you will be encouraged to be negative. Hypnotherapy works to restrict the amount you are piling into your bucket and get you concentrating on the positive things in your life. So you can give the performance of your life.

If you are based in Bristol and would like to experience how hypnotherapy can help with performance anxiety feel free to contact me.