Understanding & Overcoming Stage Fright

Performers par excellence as Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep and Sir Laurence Olivier admitted that at one time or another they experienced stage fright. Most thespians used stage fright as a kind of stimulus to give their best performance. If you suffer from stage fright, you are not alone as more than 80% of people experience some form of stage fright. If you feel butterflies in your stomach before any public appearance, your reaction is not anything out of the ordinary. You can cope with stage fright by knowing and understanding more about it.

Q: What is stage fright?

Stage fright, also called performance anxiety is a feeling of nervousness one gets before a public speech, a recital, a dance performance, or a stage acting. It is the fear or anxiety aroused in an individual who has to perform in front of an audience or before a camera. There are four different parts of stage fright: Anticipation is expectation of negative and unrealistic images of the performance. Avoidance is the desire to avoid doing the task. Panic and anxiety are the symptoms experienced before the presentation in front of an audience. Appraisal is the period of time after performance when the performer looks back on how the activity was done. In relation to public speaking, this type of fear is known as glossophobia or speech anxiety which is the fear of speaking before an audience. Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before the anticipated activity.

Q: What causes stage fright?

There are many causes of stage fright but the most common is that the individual lacks self confidence. Being unprepared and forgetting the lines are good reasons for the anxiety. Some individuals fear that they look witless and that they would gain the antagonism of the audience. The best explanation is that stage fright is a physiological reaction. When the body is presented with a stimulus; its reaction is excitement or fear. This triggers adrenaline, a bodily hormone, to be secreted into the body to cope with the stimulus. The function of the adrenaline is to provide energy to the body in order to respond to the stimulus - fight or flight response stimulus. When the adrenaline gets into the blood stream, there are side effects as stomach pain, shaking, trembling, vomiting and shortness of breath. This is the reason for the symptoms of stage fright.

Q: What are the symptoms of Stage Fright?

The symptoms of stage fright and social anxiety are often the same, although the former is more severe. Symptoms of stage fright are classified into physical and emotional. The physical symptoms are manifestations in the body like cold hands, dry mouth, fast pulse, nausea, nervous tics, shaky hands, shaky knees, or trembling lips. Emotional symptoms are related to feelings as racing thoughts, feeling incompetent for the task, embarrassment or fear of forgetting what to say. Any of these will happen before or during the stimulus. Here is a description of a person with stage fright: the individual feels that the room is closing him in, his throat constricts making breathing difficult. The beating of his heart is so fast like having a heart attack. In more severe conditions, he freezes and cannot speak. He feels giddy and nauseated. This is an expression of the animal instinct of fight or flight in response to unpleasant stimulus.

Q: How can I control/overcome my stage fright?

There are simple ways and means to cope with stage fright which you can do. Follow the regimen strictly if you want to get rid of stage fright.

1. Relaxation techniques: Learn some techniques of relaxation like hypnosis and biofeedback. Relaxation is a good way to encounter stress and alleviates symptoms. The ancient Oriental technique of Shiatsu massage therapy makes use of pressure point to relieve stress.

2. Exercise: Redirect the energy causing those symptoms by changing its focus. The best way to change the direction of the energy is by exercise. Do some of your usual exercise before going to the venue. You can do this fast one before going on stage: rub your hands together very fast, pass on all of your nervousness and energy in the movement, and then shake your hands very fast. Continue your natural way of breathing.

3. Breathing: Breathe to relieve stress. Learn to breathe deeply, exhale then inhale slowly at least 25 times. Your mind and body will slowly relax.

4. Practice: Practice makes perfect. Some anxieties come because the activity is not mastered. Well-practiced activities increase self confidence which in turn decrease stress and anxiety, Practice and practice; repeat and repeat until you know it by heart.

5. Diet: The food you eat will affect anxiety level. Avoid drinking coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages before your performance as caffeinated beverages are stimulants that add to your jitters. Also avoid carbonated drinks as you might burp in the midst of your presentation.

6. Water: Drink water before the performance and you can take sips of water to prevent your mouth from drying. Don’t drink too much water within the first 30 seconds of your performance. You might need to go to the wash room.

Q: Where can I find additional information about stage fright?

You can find additional information about stage fright on these sources: Books are ideal sources since they are rich with information on coping with stage fright. You can also join an organization dealing with stage fright for members to mutually help each other. There are health professionals that can provide medical assistance for those with stage fright. Personality Development and Speech courses are available to help you strengthen self confidence and for speech improvement. You can join the Toastmaster’s Club in your area whose main objective is to help people develop their ability to communicate. If you really want to achieve mastery in speech or delivering your lines, hire a professional trainer. Help yourself to overcome stage fright or stage fright will overcome you!