Is performance anxiety getting the best of you?
Whether you are an actor, a musician, a comedian or simply need to give a talk or a presentation at work, sometimes you may feel so nervous about performing or speaking in front of an audience that even the thought produces fear in you and you'd do anything to avoid it. Even the most seasoned performers can experience this, and it is due to the emergency part of our brains (the "amygdala") interpreting your circumstance as a threat and switching on the fight or flight response.
Is stage fright making you stupid?
The problem with most of the advice you get when watching youtube videos or reading articles about overcoming performance anxiety is that they mention techniques which although valid cannot be put in practice when you already are feeling panicky.
This is because when the fight or flight (or freeze) response is in place our sympathetic nervous system is switched on and adrenalin and cortisol are pumped into our system.
Blood curses up to the heart to prepare us to fight or run away from the perceived threat and therefore you can experience a variety of symptoms such as pounding heart and a feeling of panic.
The other thing that happens is that the amygdala sends inhibitory signals to the prefrontal cortex - which is the 'rational' executive part of the brain - which basically means you start thinking in 'black and white, life or death" terms.
This is because if you were faced by a real threat you would have to respond very quickly. Unfortunately this means that in a way you are more 'stupid' while in a panic in the sense that you cannot reason in the nuanced way you normally would be able to do . So before you can use any technique provided by the experts you need to switch off the sympathetic nervous system.
The problem with most advice on how to overcome stage fright is that it doesn't tell you how to switch off the panic response. Here are 3 practical exercises that will help you do that and help improve your stage presence as well.
How to switch off the panic response
Imagine a double toggle electrical switch where if one is on the other must be off. This is how the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system operate. So if you want to switch off the sympathetic nervous system your best bet is to switch on the parasympathetic! How do you do that?
First of all you let go of as much physical tension as you can. This can be done using a simple Qi Qong exercise that uses movement as well as a simple visualisation. Then you engage in diaphragmatic breathing for at least 5 minutes. Finally you can use a simple visualisation technique called "The Light globe" to ground yourself and even increase your stage presence. For examples of what these are and how they work watch the video below.
3 Simple exercises to switch off the Panic response and increase presence
For a detailed explanation of what these are watch the video below
Give these exercises a try and stick with them for at least a week. Remember that practice is what will make a difference. Want more? Why not check out my comprehensive Online Course to Defeat Public Speaking Nerves and feel authentically confident in 10 easy steps!