Far too often, people try to fight stage fright by trying to suppress their thoughts and unpleasant feelings. Thoughts are difficult to control and the more energy you give to making a thought go away, the more it will amplify. However, focusing on your bodily sensations is a much more effective way of grounding yourself.
Stage fright can be very effectively dealt with by addressing the physical sensations caused by it. Most of the times, stage fear is felt in the body. The thoughts are certainly a huge part of the experience but what makes it unpleasant is that we feel less in control of our bodies in moments when we need to feel in control the most. Common experiences include tremors, mild fever, sweating, disorientation, shallow breathing and a quick heart rate.
Here are few things you could try the next time you are feeling jittery before getting on stage:
THE IDEA OF LETTING GO: (TAKES SOME TIME TO MASTER BUT IS EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE)
This is a technique that has helped me get through some phases of intense anxiety. I first came across this idea in a book called “Letting Go” by David R Hawkins. The technique is very simple. Every time you feel anxiety, fear, anger or any other such disarming emotion, redirect your attention to the physical sensations caused by that emotion. For instance, I experience anxiety as gentle shivering in my entire body or as a ‘heavy’ sensation in my abdomen/chest and I experience anger as a 'tightness' or 'heaviness' in my chest. Once you have identified the sensation and have successfully been able to draw your awareness to it, observe it closely and stay with it. This technique is wonderful because it doesn’t need you to IGNORE your thoughts. It just gives you something different and more tangible to anchor your attention to.
The amazing thing about this method is that if you actually resist fighting or fearing the sensations and instead allow them to run their course in your body, the feelings dissipate in as little as 30 seconds. They may return, but you welcome them and watch them in your body, once again, until they have run their course. You may feel these emotions as energy moving through your body. If you find your mind going back to your thoughts, gently bring your awareness back to the physical sensations that your body is experiencing. Ironically, the best way to rid yourself of stage fear is to actually allow it and experience it! But that’s nothing to be afraid of because once you do so, the feeling goes away really really quickly.
Once you are out of the grip of your mind, you might even be able to see your thoughts not as prophecies or your reality but as an automated response that kicks in due to years of conditioning.
2. SCANNING FOR TENSION AND TARGETED RELAXATION:
This idea is very similar to the one above. Step one is to come out of autopilot mode and become aware of exactly how and when your stage fear hits you. Whenever you sense some anxiety or negative thoughts rising, acknowledge that you are experiencing stage fear and try to describe the physical sensation in as much detail as you can manage. Doing this will slowly change your relationship with stage fear. You will begin to think of it not as a state of being out of control but instead, as a mere bunch of physical sensations, that are, as you will see, very easy to get rid of. That makes the experience seem much less daunting.
Thereafter, gently bring your attention to one part of your body such as your feet and ask them to release all their tension. You can do the same with your hands and in fact with the rest of your body. Move from one part of your body to the next and ask each part to release tension and ease up one by one. Focus on shoulders, back, face, pelvis and other parts of your body which tend to store tension.
You should feel that the negative thoughts disappear very quickly this way and you feel physically better too!
Extended exhales are a great way to calm the nervous system. Take a breath in and then exhale for as long as you can manage through a small opening in your mouth. While exhaling, imagine that your body is expanding and/or melting away into the floor. You can also imagine your body get heavier with each exhale.
Some of these techniques take practise but the results are fantastic. Incorporating them in your day to day life in activities outside of singing is the key to learning them quickly. These techniques work well for any form of anxiety and in any situation where you feel like your thoughts are getting the better of you.