i didn't know that! Issue# 13- Anxiety part 1

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To the performance psychologist, anxiety is a complex emotional state. To the general public, anxiety is synonymous with worry, fear and forebodings. To a singer, it is public enemy number one!

Is there anything good about anxiety?

When singers freeze or commit a blunder in a big performance moment, anxiety is either the root cause or the outcome. For the most part, anxiety is the result of other unsolved problems. Performance, by its very nature, places stress on performers and makes demands on their mental and physical energy. But it also offers the participants a challenge, great opportunities, and a chance to push back their own personal boundaries, all of which can be very liberating. Yet it does produce some uncertainty, some doubts–how will it go? Consider anxiety as a reflection of uncertainty. Yes, this powerful combination of stress and uncertainty is the villain, but it is the kind of villain that could turn out to be a blessing as well.

What kinds of anxiety are there?

Whenever a performance is imminent, what thoughts run through performers’ heads? How important it is? How much it means to them? The probable consequences of the outcome? Do they ask themselves certain questions? Will I do well? What might happen if I blunder? Will the result mean something great for my future? If I don’t do well, will that diminish my reputation?

Not only singers have doubts. Anxiety, characterized by worry and tension, is a demon for everyone. These doubts and worries can either make a performer anxious or free from anxiety. They can add to their confidence or they can crush it. How they perceive any performance, what they say to themselves about that performance--these things will trigger their emotional reactions.

But....if they were able to change their way of thinking about what the performance means to them....if they were able to change their way of viewing their own ability....if they were able to deal with the situation in a positive way, then they could transform their emotional responses. The only change would be in their self-perception or their interpretation of the performance. It could, in short, be the means to free them from fear and anxiety.

Anxiety is Internal

Some performers manage to sing well, stay confident, maintain their focus without too much anxiety. It is possible. It is possible because anxiety is not an evil ogre waiting out there. Anxiety is internal. It does not exist outside thoughts, outside the performer’s own head.

Stress resulting from anxiety is not imposed by other people or by the situation. One
might feel anxious about certain circumstances, but it isn’t mandatory that one become anxious. It’s not the situation that is anxious. It’s the performer! Ultimately, anxiety is always under one’s own control.

Anxiety results from one’s perception of an imbalance between what is demanded of him/herself and feelings regarding one's own capability to achieve what is being demanded.

Example: If someone views a performance as very important and if, at the
same time, he/she does not believe that the repertoire offered is “perfect enough,”
if he/she is convinced that it cannot reach the required level, then the imbalance,
the difference between the two, causes the performer to be anxious and stressed.

To remain in control of their anxiety, performers must keep the two sides in balance--that is, they must balance their perception of the performing situation and their belief in their own ability to handle that situation.

A certain level of anxiety is necessary to perform well, but too much anxiety can exert a negative influence on performance. It’s OK to feel anxious, but it’s not OK to be unable to manage this anxiety. To perform in an ideal way the performer needs some anxiety, just enough to feel excited and ready for performance. The ability to perform at an optimal level of anxiety or arousal at each performance is a skill that can make or break the ability to perform consistently.

Alan Thomas