When you perform, you walk a fine line between excitement and fear. In fact, fear and excitement come with similar hormones and bodily responses, like increased adrenaline and heart rate. Both making you ready for action!
The anticipations of the performance can take you on different journeys. So, when you next perform, what journey will you embark on? Is it the journey of feeling pure excitement? Is the journey of excitement mixed with fear? Or, is the journey of fear taking you in a “freeze up” state? As your automatic or unconscious anticipations get triggered, without your awareness or consent, the journey starts to unfold. You don’t get to choose your journey unless you are mindful of your emotional responses and their link to automatic or unconscious anticipations. Let’s explore how you can tune into your anticipations so you can create your own performance journey.
How does your anticipation create anxiety and impact your performance?
The clues are in your feelings, thoughts, and body reactions about the upcoming performance.
The feel-good anticipations are your feelings of joy, love, and excitement. This is when you tell yourself, “I can’t wait to…” or “I will love this …” This kind of anticipation will prepare you to give everything that you are to that performance. Your feelings, thoughts, hormones, and your entire body will help you succeed because you are anchored in love for what you do and confidence in you abilities.
In such moments, your talents, skills, and excitement come together to create an internal space that enables you to be your best. When you perform from this internal space, you become the performance. You are flowing, performing straight from your heart, connecting with and captivating your audience. When people can feel the way you are in touch with your own performance, it touches them in memorable ways.
But what happens when your anticipation is a mixture of excitement and fears, i.e., anxiety? Being excited and scared at the same time is very normal when you face a performance, particularly when it’s a new one. In these moments of mixed emotions, it’s possible to stay connected to your feel-good anticipation, but it’s also likely that some “feel-bad” anticipations can creep in too. When this happens, you can be seduced into fears and doubts. Your performance starts to feel disconnected from you and your talents. You can become locked in an emotional void, and your performance could lack authenticity, feeling, and intimacy.
And then, there are the moments when the anticipation becomes pure fear and you can only think “I’m scared” and “I’m anxious.” This is when your adrenaline and increased heart turn into a stress response. You freeze up and you want to run away at the same time. You simply want out of the danger zone! In such moments, despite how much you love to perform, fear takes over and you can’t seem to access your abilities, talents, or your passion to perform. Performance anxiety takes over.
Being seen by others when you’re in this freeze state is painfully vulnerable. It can make you feel incapable, “less than,” and ashamed. All you want is to escape and there is no desire to perform anymore. Experiences like these can become further encoded in your unconscious mind, reinforcing old fears and doubts.
Yes, your past experiences with performance are encoded in your unconscious mind, ready to be activated and can really influence how you perform. When these anticipations prepare you for a good journey, great! When the anticipations are filled with doubts, your performance can be taken over by fears of the past, revived in the present.
You can tune into your unconscious anticipations and help yourself create your own performance journey.
Next time you have a performance, sometime in the preceding days or hours, stop for a moment and tune into your feelings and thoughts. See what you notice. If you find yourself excited and looking forward for your performance, great! Enjoy your performance.
If, however, you notice any fears or doubts along with your excitement, you can consciously choose to connect with your feel-good anticipations while you allow your fears to come and go. Intentionally, you can revisit any good memories related to past performances. Be with these good memories. Let them become real and vivid in your body and mind, so real that those nervous butterflies become just energy to perform. And, when you’re feeling this energy, rehearse your performance. You can further step into your good-feeling performance by capturing that inner self-talk of “I can’t wait!”
Repeat, repeat, repeat! Every time, you repeat, you train yourself to connect to good-feeling anticipations, while you increase your ability to tolerate fears. Eventually, you will be able to remain connected to your good feelings about your performance and tolerate any fears, in that very moment when your performance is in real-time.
These steps can be very helpful if you are experiencing a “clean fear” that belongs in the present moment rather than a paralyzing fear of unprocessed traumas of the past.
The third anticipation scenario we discussed above, the “freeze up” state when you just want to run away? This is what can happen if you have some unprocessed traumatic fears around performing, these feelings from the past may hook into the normal, in-the-moment, anxieties and trap you into what feels like a state of inexplicable anxiety.
You’re taken over by feelings of doubts, irrational worries, and those dreaded sweaty palms. You are anticipating something unpleasant will happen, even if you didn’t perform, yet. This anticipation, most likely, comes from moments of the past.
When these unprocessed traumatic fears come to the surface, it’s unlikely that you can stop them on your own. In fact, you feel so distressed and consumed by the anticipated performance that it begins to control you and your everyday actions. When this happens, it’s time to seek professional help.
As we all know, not all performances are equal. Performances that touch others deeply, become cherished memories. You can be fully present with your performance and be much more likely to create an unforgettable moment, when you heal your unprocessed traumatic fears. When you’re completely in the present rather than trapped in the past or worrying about the future, you connect to your passion, skills, and talents. You create stories to be remembered!
Contact me to set up a free 15-20 minute consultation to see if psychotherapy can help you further your career and your personal life.
I am Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Doctor in Clinical Psychology. I help creatives and performers with emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, performance anxiety, creative blocks / creative issues, relationships, and addictions – to be and live their own best version. You can read more about Therapy for Creatives and Performers here.