Stage fright: what it is, symptoms and how to overcome it

Stage fright: what it is

It is increasingly evident that the psychological factor has a determining weight in the performance of all those activities that imply reaching a level of performance or an external evaluation . In the practice of sport, art or even work or academia, an optimal mental state can help, while a deficient one will always limit us.

The influence of psychology here is so evident that we have intuitively created certain colloquial expressions to refer to these phenomena: to be full of ball, to be plugged in, to be a pineapple, to be on a roll… or the famous stage fright .

What is stage fright?

Stage fright is a state of high physiological activation that occurs before a performance, or any type of activity that involves the presence or assessment of an audience . There are artists who claim that it is impossible to give a good performance without this “fear”, and it is true that a certain level of activation is required to carry out any task. That is to say, the more activation, the better the performance up to a certain point, where the performance starts to decrease if this activation continues to increase, drawing an inverted U if it is represented graphically.

This point is known as the optimal activation level , and is different for each artist. In other words, there will be those who give the best version of themselves to an activation of 80 out of 100, and those who need not go beyond 65. To limit this level of activation, there are different relaxation and activation techniques, depending on what the need is to be covered.

Relaxation techniques to be used

The most useful relaxation technique in these cases is breathing. By executing a controlled breathing we can reduce those extra pulsations that can ruin our performance, or make us not enjoy the performance. Furthermore, by paying attention to the phases of this breathing and the movements of the different organs involved in it, we prevent cognitive anxiety, and we prevent our attention from being directed towards anticipatory or blaming thoughts (“I’m going to make a mistake”, “I always get this part wrong, etc.”).

Training in breathing in controlled environments (rehearsals, at home…) will help us to automate this technique, being able to put it into practice quickly at any time we might need it, such as before giving a concert or playing an important match.

However, although excess is usually the most common cause of activation problems, it is worth insisting that a defect in the activation can be just as damaging (to a piece that we have always mastered perfectly, or to a match against the last one on the table), so it is worth taking into account the existence of activation techniques , perhaps more rudimentary but just as necessary.

However, and honouring the colloquial name of this evil, we must not fail to pay attention to the most emotional component of it: fear.

The role of fear

Fear, as a good emotion, is not bad in itself. It is adaptive, selected to intervene in the survival of the species, allowing us to flee or fight against threats to our lives. However, in our species there has been a cultural selection that coexists with the natural one, and now fear is triggered in situations for which it was not designed. A job interview, an exam, a performance…

That’s why, although relaxation techniques help, it’s usually good to go further, to unravel what thoughts, what preconceived ideas hold that fear. The fear of failure may be related to one’s self-esteem , or it may have a social function (fear of being judged, of being rejected) in which case it is advisable to restructure those ideas, to break the relationship between one’s self-esteem and the performance of a specific task, between such performance and our place in society.

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