A helpful tool for musicians to handle performance anxiety
I had a dream this week.
My recurring anxiety dream. Do you have one, too?
There is a myriad of variations to it, but it is always at Eastman. I have rehearsal on the stage of the Eastman Theater that starts in minutes. No flute. No music. And lots of running. Can’t find my locker, remember my combination, realize that I’ve missed several rehearsals already, running to the music library, up and down the stairs of the Annex, to my car, to the dorm...
My heart is starting to beat fast right now with simply the memory of the dream.
That dumb dream assaults me when I have actual, unprocessed anxiety. It’s my friendly (scratch that - my terrifying and heart pounding) little reminder to check in with myself and deal with my sh#%.
Enter fear sifting.
Fear sifting is a process that helps you delineate the useful fear from non specific, unhelpful fear.
If you are really living, you Are going to be outside of your comfort zone. That’s the game. That’s the nature of being BRAVE.
Anxiety is part of that package. Unless you live your life small and on the couch, you are going to need a strategy to deal with the fear as it bubbles up.
How To Fear Sift
I want you to grab yourself a paper and a pen. Just like our exercise from last week, this is best done on the page and not in your head.
Draw a stick figure face that represents how you’re feeling right now. X’s for eyes, squinty eyebrows, grimace. Whatever anxiety looks like for you.
Around the stick figure face write down everything that your head is saying to you in little thought bubbles. Keep going until you have articulated EVERY fear, every little thing that your brain is communicating. Don’t stop until it is all out on the page. (This piece in and of itself is incredibly helpful. You are taking non-specific fear and giving it a name. When it has a name you are more able to process it.)
Now take each thought bubble and work with it. Write it down and ask, “What is this fear trying to save me from?” “What is the worse case scenario?” Evaluate everything as objectively as you can.
You will find that some things are true. Some things can be and need to be handled. HANDLE THEM. Schedule a time to practice a certain passage or study the score or get some new concert black.
The stuff that’s left? That’s the unhelpful anxiety. “What if I’m not good enough?” Whelp, there is nothing you can do about that! It’s not specific. It’s NOT HELPFUL. So you say, “Thank you. NEXT!”
Anxiety is not the enemy.
Sometimes it really is there to help us. Sometimes it is there to keep us small.
Your job, as you live your big, vibrant, brave life is to know the difference.
I've created a Free Fear Sifting Worksheet to support you in this work. Print off a couple of copies and keep them on your music stand to use the next time anxiety creeps up. A few minutes is all it takes to get a handle on the stress, create a plan, and move forward productively!
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
Join the waiting list for my FREE mini-course, How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve and Calm the Heck Down.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.