Steps to conquer stage fright: Fight the fear factor

This is a series about conquering stage fright. Last week, we talked about the importance of knowing yourself. This week, we’re talking about the fear factor.


There was a pause. The group in the room all turned towards me expectantly. This was the moment I had feared. I breathed in slowly, trying to control my thumping heart. This is it, I thought. I tried to collect my thoughts, remember what I had to do. It’s now or never.

“Kalimera. Me lene Jennifer. Pos se lene?”


Yes, that was my first ever Greek class, and my first sentence in Greek. Scary stuff. My heart pounded, I can tell you, just as it used to every time I performed as a musician or actor.

But why? Why did it pound? Why was I so anxious about saying a very few words (albeit in a foreign language)? I mean, it isn’t as though I was doing anything death-defying!

And that’s just the point. When we stand up to make that speech or sing that song, our bodies pump us full of adrenalin. It’s the chemical that is behind the fight or flight response, the response that was so useful to us when we had to deal with dangerous animals on a daily basis.

But when we are onstage, or making a speech, we aren’t being chased by a lion. We aren’t in danger of imminent death. Our bodies just make us feel that way. I think this may be part of the reason why FM Alexander wrote “Unduly excited fear reflexes, uncontrolled emotions … are retarding factors in all human development… This is particularly the case when a person endeavours to learn something calling for new experiences.”

So how do we deal with the fluttering tummy and pounding heart?


Steps to fighting the fear

1. Accept that it is normal. So often my students think that the physical signs of adrenalin are bad and wrong and they shouldn’t be feeling them. On the contrary, it’s a normal reaction to stress. So don’t stress about it!

2. We need to do something to make the activity that is stressful to us, not stressful any more. And the classic way to do this is to give ourselves a few trial runs. FM Alexander says of teaching that the teacher should ask the student “to learn gradually to remember the guiding orders or directions.” And why learn them gradually? Be ause, in Alexander’s words, “satisfactory experiences … make for confidence.”

3. Give ourselves time. If we allow ourselves trial runs and give ourselves confidence from our steps to success, Alexander says that success is guaranteed. But he doesn’t say when: “This may not be today, tomorrow or the next day, but it will be…” So let’s give ourselves time, and a little bit of latitude!


Do you get butterflies? Do they stress you out? How will you deal with them next time?

Quotes are from Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, Irdeat Complete Edition, pp.338-9.
Image by renjith krishnan from 


5 Alexander Technique steps to everyday happiness: 2. Rejoice that you are fallible


In my teaching room, I have a cupboard. It has two main uses. Firstly, it stows my computer away out of sight. This is its practical use. But it has a far more important function than that.

It stores all of my students’ sticks.

Sticks? I hear you ask.

Yes, sticks. The sticks they beat themselves up with.

Mental sticks

Obviously I don’t mean actual physical sticks. I’m talking about something far more insidious, though just as damaging. I am talking about the things that people believe about themselves and say to me during their lessons.

“I have such terrible posture.”
“I sit really badly.”
“My right leg is okay. But my left leg is really bad.”
“I know that my walking isn’t good, but there’s nothing I can do to make it better.”
“If my furniture at work was better, I wouldn’t have this neck pain.”


Why these statements are sticks

1. They are examples of what I was talking about last week: they are examples of thinking that is stuck in a groove. They are conclusions masquerading as statements of fact, and the reasoning on which those conclusions are based has long been forgotten. The assumptions are hidden. And hidden assumptions are dangerous!

2. They are conclusions that assume that improvement is impossible. When someone says “I have terrible posture,” typically the unstated ending to the sentence is something like “and it can’t change.” And the student sincerely believes this, because so far they haven’t been able to change what is bothering them. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t change.

3. Because these statements assume that change is impossible, they are a means of abdicating self-responsibility. Think about it. If something can’t change, the how much responsibility do we need to take for changing it? None! Instead, we claim the apparently unchangeable behaviour and use it to make ourselves feel bad.


Give up the stick!

This is what I tell my students. I fact, I hold out my hand and require them to give them up! Here is why.

1. Change is possible.

2. Change begins by owning up to the things that we do to ourselves. Or as FM Alexander would put it, we need to “acknowledge in fact that [we] suffer from mental delusions regarding [our] physical acts.” *

3. Doing this is not an admission of failure. It is an admission of power. As soon as we stop beating ourselves up and own up to the unnecessary muscular activity we are doing to ourselves, we have gained power over it. We are no longer slaves to discomfort. We have, in fact, taken the first major step to mastering it.

So give up your sticks. Send them to me – write them down in the comments and leave them there. And then you’ll have taken a leap away from discomfort and towards everyday happiness.


* FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.59.

 Image by Mati Martek, stock.xchng