So how do you control anxiety and intense nerves when performing?
The simple answer, is not very well, if at all.
Telling yourself not to be anxious when performing is akin to telling yourself not to blink!
The reason being is that feelings of anxiety are not only unwelcome but they are involuntary and automatic. Involuntary and automatic responses come from your subconscious mind, and your subconscious mind is far more powerful than your conscious mind. Therefore trying to control a subconscious response of performance anxiety is a struggle at best, impossible at worst! In order to get real and lasting relief from performance anxiety, you need to align your subconscious with your conscious. You need to get your subconscious mind on side.
Before we talk about how we do that, it’s useful to understand the difference between the conscious and subconscious mind: your conscious mind is your logical, reasoning, rational mind and your subconscious mind is your belief system, your imagination, and your emotional mind. There are two main characteristics to your subconscious mind: firstly, it is your inner protector, its main role is to keep you safe at all times – mentally, physically, and emotionally. Secondly, there is no time in your subconscious mind. It simply doesn’t understand linear time.
What this means when it comes to performance anxiety is this: if at any point in your life you felt anxious about being ‘seen’, ‘judged’, ‘messing up’ or ‘being exposed’ your subconscious mind would have come to a belief that it needs to protect you and therefore activates feelings of anxiety involuntarily in order to do this. Because your subconscious mind doesn’t understand time, it doesn’t understand that consciously and logically you have no reason to feel anxious. It doesn’t understand that you have practiced and rehearsed incessantly, that you can sing or play with consummate ease when you are by yourself or in front of your coach. It doesn’t care that you have been told many, many times by friends, teachers, fellow students, musicians, and performers that you have real and solid talent and have no reason to doubt yourself or your ability. All it cares about is protecting you based on a belief it probably came to many, many years ago, often when you were very small indeed.
So why does your subconscious mind come to this, quite frankly, unhelpful belief? Well if you think about it most of us, unless we were child stars or prodigies, were not brought up in the limelight. We are not used to being ‘out there’ and the first time we do anything big can feel rather frightening and exposing. It can be a real jolt to the system to perform in front of an audience initially. It is also true that any situation in which we may be judged and left wanting can leave us very nervous indeed. Combine this with the subconscious’s intense drive to protect you and lack of understanding around time, and performance anxiety can become a very real problem indeed!
But there is good news! And the good news is that all of this can be resolved with the right work. As a hypnotist with over a decades experience, I have witnessed many clients overcome crippling performance anxiety to go on to perform with confidence, ease and joy. The reason hypnosis is so effective for performance anxiety is that it communicates directly with the subconscious, which is exactly where the problem resides.
Every client that comes to see me at my practice in Harley Street is presenting with a ‘subconscious’ problem. If it were a conscious problem they would have told themselves to either stop doing or feeling the thing they didn’t want to be doing or feeling and stopped it. However the subconscious does not work like this, as its dominant and has its own agenda. The subconscious mind needs to be communicated and negotiated with to let go of the issue. Once this is done effectively and agreement is given by the subconscious, the issue and its effects can often dissipate very rapidly indeed. Once the subconscious has agreed to release the anxiety, I affirm to the subconscious that it is now a very safe, and indeed, positive experience for the individual to perform. We will also use visualisation to get the individual focused on how they do want to feel and not on the way they don’t. Without exception every musician or performer I have treated for performance anxiety presents to me initially with a very strong focus on what they don’t want to happen: a panic attack, trembling hands, wobbling voice, forgetting words or notes, and so on. I call these ‘negative fantasies’. It’s no secret that what we focus on we get more of, so by using hypnosis to get the mind focused on performing well to an audience with ease, flow, and confidence, we can then anchor these good feelings to be triggered for all future performances.
The other good news is that musicians and singers generally respond very well to hypnosis as they are already so in touch with that creative powerhouse: their subconscious mind.
In essence, no matter how much you are battling with anxiety and performance fears currently, I assure you, with the right focus you can become free and begin to not only perform with confidence but with genuine enjoyment and excitement too.