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?
Image by renjith krishnan from FreeDigitalPhotos.net