Ahhh old mate Performance Anxiety… That little voice in the back of our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough…
I thought it was time to pen a little something on this topic, because I seem to be at a point in my career where performance anxiety doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. Suffice to say I am certain there will be moments to come in my life when anxiety rears its ugly head and becomes unbearable again, as these things come in waves, but perhaps future Jess will find some comfort in these ideas, so that’s something.
Anxiety has always manifested itself as an evil little voice in my head, telling me I am not good enough. Super helpful, right? As soon as I approach that top note or that long, melismatic phrase, the voice says “Oh yes, this is the bit you’re going to screw up cos you actually suck. Ok well have fun then bye.” Cool. Thanks anxiety. Thanks brain. Super grateful. ❤
I had a mentor at Uni by the name of Tessa Bremner, whose input on this particular subject I really appreciated. She used to talk about that little voice, and called it something along the lines of ‘the parrot on your shoulder’, which is obviously an awesome metaphor. Whenever I had a brain block and the anxiety took over (usually to the point of me not even physically being able to sing anymore) she would tell me to “knock the parrot off”, and keep going. At first, doing exactly that was impossible; but I kept at it and succeeded eventually.
So I found myself in a place where, if I yelled inwardly at myself, I would be able to perform. Marginally better, yes, but there was a long way to go.
So much of what we do depends on a positive self-image and self love. I started to realise that when I focussed on what I was doing well, I started improving much faster (instead of damning myself whenever I got something wrong). To this day the performance recap I do with myself usually goes a little something like this:
‘OK so that particular section needs some work, but you nailed this bit and I loved the following things about that performance blah blah blah’
This manner of thinking has helped me no end. When I approach a performance now, I don’t panic about it (as long I have done the work – and I ALWAYS do the work). There will eternally be that rush of adrenaline before you walk out onto the stage – but that of course comes under the umbrella of ‘good stress’, and we need that energy to get through our performance.
Positive self talk, and acknowledgement of how far we have come is an incredibly helpful thing. Find yourself a teacher/ mentor who will encourage you positively, but know that it’s pretty much exclusively up to you to talk yourself up in a positive way. Know that you have something special and you have stories to tell. Keep going. Be kind to yourself.
It’s so hard to do, but practise (haha) and it will get easier. You will reap the rewards and see yourself improve much more. Go you good thing! I believe in you!