Sooner or later it happens to everyone. Performance anxiety. You’re faced with a performance, a presentation or an audition and the stakes are high.

You need to get the grade. You need to get the part. You need to nail the performance.

When I would perform in front of large audiences, my anxiety would go through the roof!

Suddenly my palms would be clammy and my thoughts were racing. My mouth would get dry and it felt like everything had frozen up. After several years of struggling, it seemed like there was nothing I could do to overcome these feelings of anxiety and I eventually stopped playing music in public entirely. But you know what happened?

I still got anxious.

It turned out that my anxiety wasn’t a performance problem.  It was a brain problem.

Our brains are intelligent machines that understand when a threat is present and a “fight or flight” response is triggered.  You might seem extra nervous, jumpy or skittish.  If you are a musician, you might feel frozen (which is a flight response) or you may increase the tempo of the song (which is a fight response).  Neither of these reactions will help you perform your best.  This exercise works by using all five of your senses to bring your entire brain back online, helping override the flight or fight response and keeping you level headed under pressure. 

What often accompanies anxiety is the fear that nothing can help.  That fear can seem really big and make this exercise seem somewhat silly when you are in the grip of anxiety.  But, while this exercise may seem simple, if you practice it when you feel anxious, it will work.

THE NEXT TIME YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED BEFORE A BIG PERFORMANCE, try using this simple Anxiety Countdown to help calm you down:

Notice 5 things that you can SEE and name them out loud.  

It’s important to say them out loud to activate as much of the brain as possible.  

Notice 4  things that you can TOUCH , name them out loud, and take the time to actually feel those items.  

Notice their textures.  Take your time through this process.  Again, your senses are heightened and it’s going to be difficult not to rush through these exercises, but the point is to slow down enough that your entire brain will naturally be re-engaged by these exercises.

Next, notice 3 things that you can HEAR  and name them out loud. 

Take time to describe what kind of a sound it is.  If you hear traffic, what sounds are you hearing specifically?  A car horn? Engines rumbling?  Take your time and be thorough with what you notice.

 Notice 2 things that you can SMELL and name those things out loud.

You can use essential oils as a grounding aid in this step of the exercise.  If the oil is complex, try to note all of the different elements of the scent.  Take your time and BREATHE…

Finally, notice 1 thing that you can TASTE and name it out loud.

What do you notice about the flavor, is it minty, is it sweet. Take a moment to identify what you are tasting and take a deep breath. A piece of gum or piece of hard candy can be really helpful in making this part of the exercise effective.

What do you notice about the flavor, is it minty, is it sweet. Take a moment to identify what you are tasting and take a deep breath. A piece of gum or piece of hard candy can be really helpful in making this part of the exercise effective.

This is a simple technique the can help ground yourself if you are experiencing performance anxiety. I use this and many other techniques to navigate moments of fear and anxiety.  Feel free to copy this infographic below and use it as a reminder and follow the steps the next time you get anxious.

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If you would like to talk to someone in-depth about performance anxiety, please contact me today.  I am happy to help reduce any anxiety you are experiencing in your life.