We’ve have had a pretty stressful time of it recently and this week was the last straw for us because our boiler decided to explode boiling water everywhere and fall off the wall… not once but twice! What a drama! As you can imagine this caused us a real unprecedented amount of stress…I started thinking about music and how as a musician we are constantly put under pressure and many of us suffer from performance anxiety.
This is not only for concerts but also in exams and even sometimes in our practice sessions when something just isn’t going right! I have many students who suffer with stress and performance anxiety and it is important to know how to help them cope with it. With my baby twins and with this lockdown situation it is also very important that I control my stress levels and not allow my stress to affect the babies!
This relates very much to performance. How do we keep our stress levels low so that we can execute a brilliant performance without that dreaded performance anxiety? And in general how do we keep our stress levels low so that we can keep our practice focused and stay sane?
It goes without saying that if you are prepared and have practiced enough your stress levels will automatically be lower. But what about those of us that are still affected or are faced with situations that we can’t prepare for? Stress itself is neither just an internal problem nor an external problem, it is a blend of the two, meaning that it is important to take care of our mind and our environment together.
But just how do our minds and bodies react to stress and performance anxiety?
I have spoken about this many times with my students and colleagues and each individual has their own unique way of reacting to a stressful situation and performance anxiety. Some of the common reactions to stress can be:
– sweaty palms or cold hands
–increased heart rate
-nausea or the feeling of butterflies in our stomach
We can even have more severe reactions such as:
– Impairment of our decision making
–Perceiving problems in a more stressful way or analysing a situation wrongly
–It can even effect our motor skills and breathing
None of these reactions are good when you’re a musician! If something like this happens it can make the stress build further and we can go into fight or flight mode or even freeze… making that performance anxiety worse! So how can we prevent this from happening?
Can stress be good?
Before we go into how to prevent this from happening it is important to note that some stress can be good! It has been proven that a certain amount of adrenaline and heightened state of awareness is needed for peak performance. We can even go into a state which is called ‘flow’… a blog for another day! But obviously too much adrenaline can impair our performance so how do we find the balance?
How can we deal with our stress?
There are many different things we can do to relax our bodies and minds during performance or practice. These include:
- This is my go to…the very act of breathing can slow your heart rate down. If you find yourself in a state of panic, take a moment to slow down and do some deep breathing. I often introduce this to my students from the very first lesson where we will breathe in for five, hold for five and breathe out for ten. This is not only amazing for your stress levels but will also begin to help you with breath control when playing your instrument. Consciously controlling your breathing is a useful tool for every situation… especially when you have baby twins!
- Affirmations are vital for every one! This is a very new concept to me but I have now been using these for a few months. If you find that you doubt yourself then stress will come creeping in more easily. Ssimply telling yourself over and over again that you can do this, will change your life. If you don’t believe you can do it then you probably won’t. Write down your positive affirmations on notes around your house and read them every time you go past.
Take yourself outside of your body
- This is something I often do during performances or if I need to be super focused on getting something done. I transform myself into a different version of me. A more confident and powerful version of me! This version of me can do anything and often these are my most proud performances and moments. Try and take yourself out of your body and watch yourself, it will help you slow down.
Familiarity of the situation
- Prepare yourself! If you know you’re about to put yourself into a stressful situation then ensure you know how this will go. You may not be able to recreate the exact situation, such as having the audience there, but getting yourself familiar with the feelings associated with it, will help to control your stress. You cannot use this for the unexpected but is definitely a good tool if you have advanced warning of your stress!
- You can do this, even for a few minutes each day. The act of clearing your mind and taking a few moments to yourself regularly each day, even just before a performance or practice session, will make all the difference. I often meditate to find my focus at the start of the day and it works wonders when I have to rapidly go between different tasks such as looking after the babies, teaching and performing!
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable!
- Put yourself in as many uncomfortable and stressful situations as you can. The more comfortable you can be with change and being uncomfortable, the easier you will find coping with stress. Since becoming a new mum to twins I have had to adjust myself to coping with rapidly changing situations. I am also a full-time flute player and teacher so being okay with a baby suddenly waking up or crying in the middle of a practice session is my new normal!
Try and view fear as a positive thing
- Adrenaline is conducive to an excellent performance and it is very important to know this. Accepting that you will be stressed sometimes is vital if you want to be successful. Enjoy this heightened state of awareness, it can be very rewarding!
There are many other methods you can do to de-stress and get yourself in the zone and these are just a few that I use– what do you use?
Check out my other blog posts here!