How to subdue the demon that is anxiety on stage
I started speaking really early. The first time I stood in front of a crowd, I was about five and I had to recite a really long poem on a field with hundreds of people seated. I aced it. Somehow, that ignited my love for the stage and I did all I could to find the spotlight. I honestly didn’t think I could ever have anxiety on stage. It was not until I was fifteen that I experienced what it meant to have your fears get the best of you. I was to represent my class for a debate competition. It was impromptu, but we had a few hours to get things together. My classmates chose me to represent them not because I was particularly good at it, but because I had been going on and on about how much I loved being on stage. Alas, I got on stage, in front of the near three thousand students and teachers that made up the population of my high school, and I froze. I went from the first line of greetings to the last line in the closing, stuttering my way out of every word. The entire school laughed at me until I found my way back to my seat. Ouch.
Performance anxiety or stage fright, is one thing that could happen to anybody. Originally shy people have done really well after being terrified, and tough stage performers have had painful experiences that had completely shaken them up. Of course, after my experience, I swore never to do anything that had any semblance to what I did that day — compete, debate, nothing. That was the inception of my very own performance anxiety. So many people are plagued with the demon that is performance anxiety. While some flee from all appearances of stage or related gatherings, others do the same thing over and again until they agree it is not for them. A good number give up at first shot too. While it seems safe to completely avoid stage performances or public communication, every individual will at some point in his or her life, be faced with the need to face a crowd. As an artist, a dancer, a singer, presenting your school project to a panel, accountants at board meetings, teachers in classes, and so much more. As such, it is best to tackle it.
The first real form of performance anxiety comes before the performance itself. When you get the memo that you need to present something to a board, hours before giving a Ted talk, or minutes before speaking to a group of students. As normal as these are — many top speakers still experience basic anxiety before speaking — it has caused people their entire presentations. If that first phase of anxiety is taken care of, you would be able to move on to success. Otherwise, you would rap through the entire presentation with a shaky voice, miss your steps or flunk your lines, and basically end up with one more reason not to try it. This and the other forms of anxiety are external or caused by major paranoia. What would people think? Would they like me? What if I miss my lines? The more you focus on the possible wrongs, the more likely they are to occur. Your fears literally catch up with you. To deal with stage fright and performance anxiety, three basic things are necessary.
1) Be ready: This could be the only reason you are anxious — you are just not ready. The second you get informed about your next possible stage performance, start preparing. When you know what you need to say, and exactly what to do, chances are that you would move through it with ease. When you are ready, the stage has nothing on you. However, there are periods where you would be forced to make impromptu performances. At these periods, you can either choose not to if you can, or take in little. If you try to learn and regurgitate too many things at a time, you would crash (trust me, I know). I moved from not wanting to be on stage at all, to deciding that I would not attempt any stage performance I was not sure to tackle. I figured if I prepared well enough, I would have no reason to be anxious. It has worked so far.
2) Relax yourself: Anxiety would flood you, only when you want it to. In essence, we are the architects of our own problems. Before taking on any stage, learn to relax. People have various ways by which they relax themselves. Yoga, sleep, talking to a mirror; find what way works for you and stick to it. A teacher in high school, after my stage incident, suggested that a hold on to the cap of a pen while I was on stage. Just so I could draw strength from it. Weird as it sounds, it worked. Avoid anything that would stress you mentally. Hence, stay away from caffeine, unnecessary energy drinks, and food that would make you heavy. If you feel alright, you would walk up to the stage with a smile that would win your audience over.
3) Don’t overthink it: Finally, do not overthink it. It’s just a stage performance, not rocket science. Paranoia is the number one cause of tension and anxiety. A lot of people get so scared, and then get on stage and realise it is actually nothing. Have that “whatever” attitude. It’s never that serious. Do not go on stage and search the faces of people seated to find your fears. If you are not confident enough, look above the crowd. If it is a small crowd, do not focus on a face for too long. Do not overthink it before you get on stage, do not overthink it while on stage, and do not overthink it when it is all over. Keeping a positive mind-set, also works every time. Keep your mind afloat, and anxiety would just be another word in the dictionary.
Originally published at medium.com