How to Manage Performance Anxiety

How to Manage Performance Anxiety

Recognize symptoms of performance stress so you can manage them – says Juliet Russell.

If you suffer from pre-performance anxiety or “stage fright”, you’re not alone.

Some of the best-selling artists including Adele, Barbara Streisand and Thom Yorke have all spoken out about how it affects them.

I always get nervous before I perform and I don’t consider it to be a bad thing.

I feel that my nerves give me an “edge” – the heightened feelings help to get me “in the zone”.

I’ve learnt to recognize those feelings and work with them rather than letting them undermine my performance.

Other singers I know don’t get nervous at all and still sing brilliantly.

Pre-performance anxiety can manifest both physically and psychologically; if you are unsure, check this list of symptoms.

4 Ways to Manage Performance Anxiety

Flip It!

1. Flip It

You’re feeling restless. Your heart’s beating faster. You’ve got a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Yes, these are all feelings associated with anxiety, but think about it; aren’t these also feelings of excitement?

You’re a singer. How brilliant is that? You’re about to go out on stage and have people listen to YOU. How many people would love to do that?

Sometimes the way we interpret our feelings reinforces our worries and our negative beliefs, but learning to FLIP IT can be a great habit to get into.

Try this:

Play a game with yourself. Every time you feel an uncomfortable feeling or a negative thought about performing, find a way to flip it. Feeling sick? Great – that means you care and you want this. Worried that the crowd is really chatty and not listening to any of the artists tonight? Great – you’re going to be the singer that wins them over. Work it. Nobody ignores you! It’s silly and it’s fun, but learning to flip situations instantly gives you a different perspective and a way of managing your thoughts and feelings.


2. Breathe

As a singer, you already know how important breath control is, but did you know that by consciously breathing more slowly, it can help to decrease your heart rate and calm you down?

Try this:

Breathe in for 2 counts and out for 6 counts, in for 2, out for 8 counts. Continue to breathe in for 2 beats and gently increase the exhalation by 2 counts until you find a consistent rhythm or breathing pattern that works for you. This exercise is great for alleviating some of the physical symptoms of performance stress, and by bringing your attention the physical sensations of breathing, you can also focus your mind and tune out those distracting negative thoughts

Listen to music

3. Listen to music

A recent research study has shown that pre-operative patients who listened to music before surgery had less anxiety and lower cortisol levels than those taking anti-anxiety drugs.

While there is still more research to be done in this area, most of us have our “feel-good” songs that we play to lift our mood, that make us feel happy or that inspire us.

Not only can it provide a welcome distraction, but music engages multiple areas of our brain concurrently. We can literally become immersed in music.

Try this:

Create a pre-performance playlist that suits you. You might want something relaxing and mellow or something up-tempo that elevates your mood or a soundtrack that includes all of the artists who inspire you. Listening to music engages our brain in such a way that our mind is absorbed, leaving little room for negative thoughts or other distractions. Once we occupy our mind, our body stops responding to stress and is more able to relax too.

Control & Let Go

4. Control & Let Go

As a performer you can only do your best. Sometimes there will inevitably things that go wrong or that you can’t control.

The things you can’t control are exactly that. How liberating. You can’t control them so let go of them.

Instead look at what you CAN control:

  • Your rehearsal time
  • Your vocal preparation
  • Arriving on time to the venue
  • Being surrounded by great musicians
  • The sound you want to hear on stage and during sound check
  • Your stage performance
  • Your interaction with the audience
  • Your set list
  • Your microphone and equipment
  • Your clothes and image
  • Your hydration and nourishment

Try this:

Create a gig checklist that you can use every time you perform. What is essential to you? Fresh water, your own equipment, an outfit you look great in and can move around in, spare guitar strings, a warm up on your phone that you can listen to on the move, headphones etc? Knowing what you can control and being as prepared as you can be can minimize worry. Everything that you can take care of needs to be taken care of. Once you know you have what you need, it’s easier to relax. Get into good habits.

Going Beyond These Strategies

Stage fright can incorporate everything from pre-performance nerves (“the jitters”) to a debilitating fear of performing.

If you suffer from the latter, the strategies outlined above may well not be enough and don’t ever rule out seeking professional support.

A fear of performing is as valid and treatable as any other fear.

The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for stressful or emergency situations .

Sometimes known as the “fight or flight” mechanism, humans are hardwired for this heightened state.

What is important though is that you learn how to recognize it and manage it.

My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Maya Villacreces Maya Villacreces - After Hours

Maya, I got a real sense of you from this performance. I loved the count in at the beginning and the visual of you bringing your shades down – a memorable piece of performance! It is a really charming video and it made me smile. I like that you sing with personality and that you have a distinctive look and sound. The stops work really well and emphasise the playfulness of your delivery. Even though your eye contact is obscured with sunglasses, you still have the ability to connect with your audience. This is helped by you singing to the camera and leaning in. Your posture may not be helping your singing much, but this song doesn’t require a high vocal intensity so you get away with it. One thing to work on – there are quite a few large intervals between notes in this song, so practice those big jumps as you are not always nailing the pitch on the higher notes. The end of the chorus is spot on though. Lots of personality and I enjoyed it a lot.

November's Vocal Coach in Residence: Juliet Russell

Juliet Russell has coached Grammy award winners and X-Factor finalists and is a vocal coach on BBC1’s The Voice. She has performed and collaborated with Damon Albarn, Imogen Heap, Paloma Faith, Ringo Starr and is in demand as a coach, singer, vocal arranger and choral director.

In spring 2015, Juliet be touring her forthcoming album, Earth Meets Sky, throughout the UK, collaborating with choirs to create a unique performance in each city.

Juliet’s vocal exercise CD, Love Your Voice, will be available late in 2014.

  • david

    i meditate for 5 min with in-earphones.

  • Julien Sardon

    thank you so much for these tips !! I have this problem of anxiety for recording my videos for example !! Because I wanted that everything be perfect with my voice, interpretation, good piano notes, and everything….But actually, I just told me to let it go , and just think that my videos are not like A LAS VEGAS SHOW or Great Even broadcasted in the wide world !! i mean, Not yet !! ^_^ :: So, I accept the fact that it may have mistakes or bad notes or everything, but…I try to do my best !! with my heart and be as sincere as I can be….