Performance Anxiety – The Most Innovative Things Happen With Fear

If only she can overcome her fears heightened by her illness and lack of last minute practice.

About ten years ago a friend called me. She was panicked. In between her tears, she mumbled, “My daughter, Mary, is scheduled to sing tomorrow for her final vocal performance for her Master’s of Music Degree. We don’t know if she can do it.”

Mary was a gifted soprano. The past two weeks she was home in bed with strep throat. Sick, feverish, and unable to speak, Mary could not attend her final practices in preparation for her performance. Mary asked her mom for help when her doctor finally released her to go back
to singing! The call to me was the SOS … her mother knew that I had experience utilizing visualization strategies for preparation for sports and music.

One day … what could I do that would do the greatest good in this extremely short period of time. Mary’s master’s degree depended on it.
In that short time, all we could do was to mentally prepare Mary for her big day and then pray that her musical skills—the ones she has
been developing for over fifteen years—would just automatically respond. If only she can overcome her fears heightened by her illness and lack of last minute practice.

Below is the short visualization that I facilitated for Mary.

Dr. H: Gently close your eyes.  Breath in and out, in and out. Put your hand on your belly and observe your belly going up and
down … up and down as you continue to breath.  Allow your shoulders to relax as tension just melts away from your body …
Bring your focus to any part of your body that is calling out for attention. It may be tightness or an energetic sense.

Mary: My heart.

Dr. H: Breath into your heart … notice the color,  the shape, the size of your heart. Just be present in your heart. What are you aware of in your heart?

Mary: The peace and calm in my heart.

Dr. H
: From that peace and calm in your heart, allow your imagination to bring up an image of where you have sung so beautifully before …
where you have felt safe, courageous, successful.  Where is it? What does it look like? How did you feel?

Mary: Mary described a time when she sang beautifully. She felt moved and inspired.

Dr. H: Move your attention into that special place. Allow yourself to sense the feelings, emotions, beauty, vibration, and music in
that place.

Mary: Mary spent a few minutes exploring and bringing back the memories, feelings, and successful singing.

Dr H: Where in your body would you like to store that multisensory experience?

Mary: My heart.

Dr. H: Allow that beautiful experience to move into your heart. When you feel that you have experienced and completed that, please let
me know.

Mary: Mary reported that she had completed it.

Dr H: Now gradually move your fingers and toes. Allow yourself to gently open your eyes and bring your awareness back to your body, back to your room. Know that at any moment, you can move your awareness into your heart and sing from that place.

Mary’s job now was to rehearse her music from that place in her heart. She would start with a few breaths … let go of any tightness or stress … and then to prepare to sing from her peaceful and calm heart.

Her mother called me after her performance. Mary performed like a champ … confident, beautiful, and successful. We all took a collective deep, cleansing breath!

In my work with musicians, the stress of performance and perfectionism are often overwhelming. And I can attest to this with my own personal experience. Music Anxiety is common, even among professional musicians.

In one survey, 96% of the orchestra musicians surveyed admitted to anxiety before performances. Some musicians rely on some of the most prominent antianxiety drugs, like Xanax or Valium. Wouldn’t it be useful for ALL musicians—as well as other types of performers—to
acquire skills and tools to help manage their self-created stress and anxiety?

For more stories like this, check out my new book Expand Your Vision: How to Gain Clarity, Courage & Confidence. 

Dr. Hellerstein is available for lectures, trainings, workshops and interviews. If you are interested in reaching Dr. Hellerstein or booking an engagement click HERE

Lynn Fishman Hellerstein, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

Music is often the medicine to the mind.

Lynn Hellerstein
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