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Get Over Stage Fright: Work With Your Sympathetic Nervous System

We haven’t given you one of our Get Over Stage Fright installments in a while, so I thought it was time to roll out another one, since this is a problem so many musicians (and other performers) face. We mentioned Fight or Flight in our first installment 4 years ago because it’s such a significant phenomenon. When we get performance anxiety, our bodies respond as if we’re under attack. When our sympathetic nervous systems kick in, our body’s are flooded with adrenaline, and we’re faced with shaky legs, a racing heart, a dry mouth, and shallow breaths. These are all excellent things to have happen if you need to outrun a bear, but not so great things to have happen when you need your voice to sound controlled. Unfortunately, we’re better evolved for bear attacks than we are for singing in public. So what do you do? First off, let’s cover what you shouldn’t do.

Do Not Have Anxiety About Your Anxiety!

I know that sounds like a strange piece of advice, but the best thing you can do is know that your body will go into Fight or Flight mode and do your best to accept that. Having anxiety about what your body is going to do is only going to build up more tension and make things worse, so try to be okay with working within the bounds of your body’s stress mode.

Negative advice (i.e. “don’t have anxiety about your anxiety”) is rarely as effective or easy to follow as positive advice, so next, I’ll give you some ways to cope with your sympathetic nervous system.

Shake Out Your Legs

Your legs are shaking because they sense danger and want to get moving. So let them move. Shake them out! Maybe not while you’re on stage, but right before.

Take Controlled, Low Breaths

This is a big one. Controlled breaths help regulate your heartbeat, and low, expansive breaths relax your larynx so that it doesn’t move too high up in your throat and make you sound strident when you don’t want to be. Try taking a deep low inhalation for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, and exhaling for 4 counts. Then repeat until you feel your heartbeat slowing down.

Laugh

It sounds weird, but laughter will do a number of positive things for you. First off, it helps your false vocal folds to retract. When false vocal folds are constricted, your throat becomes tense, and singing in general tends to be at its least healthy and efficient. When your false vocal folds are retracted, you can sing much more freely and comfortably. Laughter also decreases stress hormones and triggers a release of endorphins, adding to your overall sense of well-being.

Hydrate Yourself

Drink a lot of water, more than you normally would, to counteract the dry mouth. If you are about to go on stage and don’t have access to water, try swallowing to produce a little more saliva.

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