As a performing musician, stage fright is something that many people have to learn to deal with. Because my mother put a lot of pressure on me to play perfectly, I experienced more than my fair share of nerves before a performance. In my young days, I would be so nervous before a performance or competition that I couldn’t eat, which gave me low blood sugar which made things worse, and I would shake like a leaf when it was my turn to play, which made it very hard to concentrate and do a good job. Not surprisingly, my performances often were not up to what they could have been. My technique for dealing with nerves as a teenager was to ban my mother from my performances, since she was the main cause of my nerves, and to adopt a very cocky attitude, pretending to be more confident than I was. This worked for a while and my performances improved.
Later, in college, I worked hard to get over my nerves by desensitizing myself to performances. The college I attended had a weekly student recital that anyone could sign up to play a piece on and I started signing up every week to play a solo in front of a large audience. My performance anxiety did improve even more because of this and I felt like I had it pretty well under control by the time I graduated. It’s true that, most times, I could get on a stage with minimal nerves and perform a solo and do a fairly fine job. But it was a bit hit or miss and I’d have good days and bad. Nerves continued to plague me throughout my music career.
Along with having performance anxiety, I was always just a nervous person in general. I got really nervous for tests and in social situations, when called on to speak in class and whenever I had to give a presentation in front of my class. When I moved to Chicago from my small rural home town to go to graduate school I noticed an on-going, low level anxiety that was always bubbling away in my belly; what I now refer to as Fear Belly. Day and night I felt just a little nervous. Of course, I had lots of reasons to be nervous. Graduate school was tough and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. My mother hadn’t wanted me to go that far away to school and I felt like I needed to do really well so she didn’t see me as a failure. I was alone in a big city for the first time in my life. That alone is enough to scare most people. But I didn’t think much of it and just went on with my life.
Then, several years later, I was driving my car on a back road in Minnesota and I had my first panic attack. It came out of the blue and I had no idea why I was suddenly feeling like my heart was going to explode and my palms were so sweaty. My vision became cloudy and unclear and I felt like I was losing my mind. By this time, I was able to perform on stage, especially with a group, with very little difficulty at all, so I really didn’t think it was related to my stage fright. I didn’t have another panic attack for quite a while after that, but even though, I felt on guard for the next one and it started to whittle away at my self confidence little by little. Eventually, my anxiety attacks/panic attacks would infiltrate into my performances again and also into my social experiences. I began to avoid going out with friends like I used to and especially dreaded performances.
My anxiety always hits me in the gut, so when I feel anxious I get bowel upset, dry mouth, rapid heart beat, sweaty palms and sometimes feel like I can’t take a deep breath. It got so bad that I was sure I had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and talked to my doctor about it. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anything they could do for me. I started taking Immodium before a performance or any kind of social thing where bathrooms weren’t readily available and taking an anti-anxiety drug called Clonazepam. I’ve even worn adult diapers on occasion if I’m really concerned. All of this disrupted my life in a big way and really put a cramp in my lifestyle. Eventually, I stopped playing my trumpet and performing. That decision was made in large part to my anxiety issues, but there were a few other factors that weighed in as well. I had lost my passion for playing music and it had become more of a chore than a joy, plus, I was having an issue with my lips that was making it hard to play as well as I normally did. So, I decided to take a break from it to give myself a break mentally and physically. That was over 20 years ago at this point.
What I’ve learned since then is that I am what is considered a Highly Sensitive Person and I am just prone to experience anxiety. Now that doesn’t mean that I have to just live with it and there’s nothing I can do. Quite the contrary. Knowing that I’m sensitive has allowed me to learn what it is that I need to thrive in the world. I pick up other people’s emotions very easily, so I have learned to shield myself from other people’s feelings and thoughts. I’ve learned to calm myself using simple meditation techniques and I’ve done some past life work and chakra clearings to help clear out a lot of negative energy that had taken up residence within my energy fields. On top of all that, I have built a relationship with my Spirit Guides and they have taught me to relax into their strength and love when I get scared. The most valuable tool I learned to deal with panic and anxiety is to not fight it and to actually invite it in. This sounds terrifying at first, but it really works. “What you resist persists” is not just a cute slogan, it is actually true. The more you try to resist and fight off your anxiety, the stronger it gets. But if you actually confront it and invite it to hit you with its best shot, it dissipates quickly.
These days, I still deal with anxiety from time to time, but I take a few deep breaths, imagine leaning into my amazing Spirit Guides, and just let the anxiety flow through me without trying to fight it. Every morning I take some time to ground myself and do a short visualization where I am surrounded by a protective bubble of white light that cleanses and protects me from other people’s junk and I’m ready for my day. My low level, persistent anxiety is gone and my bowel issues are mostly gone as well. I take a good quality probiotic regimen every day that has really helped clear up my bowel issues. Still, if I have a really big event I need to be up for I might take an Immodium and an anxiety pill as a precautionary measure, but it has to be a really big deal like flying or giving a speech. Still, I think, if I did these things more often I wouldn’t feel the need to use those crutches. There is a lot of evidence that desensitizing yourself to a situation is very effective in combating anxiety. I just don’t get that many opportunities to fly or give speeches.
So, here is a short list of the things you can do to help with anxiety:
- Meditate (even just a few minutes of deep breaths and visualization are helpful)
- Deep Breathing (slow, steady breaths in, hold and release, letting the fear go. Breathe in relaxation, breathe out fear)
- Visualize and ask to be surrounded by protective and healing white light
- Past life clearings
- Chakra clearings
- Energy work of any kind, like Reiki or crystal healings, massage
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotene (they raise your blood pressure and heart beat)
- Eat healthy, alkaline foods and don’t allow your blood sugar to get too low from not eating (Avoid big heavy meals though)
- Drink plenty of water and avoid soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi
- Invite your anxiety to ramp up and hit you harder, stop resisting it
- Have a chat with your anxiety and ask it what it is trying to protect you from (this might be very enlightening)
- Get enough sleep
- Be prepared well for whatever it is you are nervous about
- Dress a little nicer than normal (if you look good, you feel good too)
- Smile, or, preferably, laugh (you can not be anxious if you are smiling or laughing)
- Exercise (even a ten minute walk does wonders to calm you down and burn off adrenaline)
- Do something that nurtures your spirit (hot baths, cup of herbal tea, chat with friends, read a book, naps, etc.)
- Medications (for extreme situations only, or for a short period only to help you get under control, and ALWAYS with a doctor’s supervision!)
- Pray (talk to God, Angels or your Spirit Guides. Hand all of your troubles over to them to deal with. Get it all off your chest)
- Keep a Journal. Let it all out in there. Scream, cry, pound your fists, whatever it takes to get the emotions out.
- Seek counseling of some sort through a therapist or life coach to help you learn coping strategies for your life
All or any of these suggestions will help you if practiced regularly and given a chance. We live in an increasingly tenuous and frightening era in our world’s history so more and more people are becoming victims of anxiety, fear and panic. You are not alone with this problem. Ask your friends and family members and I bet many will tell you that they struggle with similar issues. Sometimes just having a buddy that gets you is helpful. If you want to speak to someone who’s been through it and has learned to handle it well, I am available for one on one coaching. Feel free to reach out to me for assistance. In the meantime, take care and remember that you are not battling this alone. Help is out there.