Saturday, April 14, 2012

Controlling Your Stage Fright

There are many ways to control your emotions. In case of stage fright, your options are a little limited, because when you are on stage, chances are you need to either speak or sing, making all manipulations with breathing off limits. Luckily, that’s not a big problem. Let’s tackle stage fright from a different angle.

Observing Your Stage Fright

The exact manifestation of stage fright varies from person to person, but the differences are not that great. What our minds interpret as stage fright is usually a combination of two feelings: They are anxiety and fear. If you’re prone to having stage fright, then you’d be experiencing anxiety prior to your appearance on stage—you’d become anxious just thinking about performing in front of the audience. When you actually set your foot on stage, however, you’d experience fear on top of your anxiety. How do I know that? I know it from observing myself and other people.

Anxiety can produce a number of symptoms, but the most crippling for a stage performer is trembling of hands, feet, and—most importantly—voice. Fear, too, can produce quite a few symptoms, but the one that makes stage fright so troublesome is the mild paralysis. You might expect the sensation of paralysis to eliminate anxiety, by slowing down its shaking, but that does not happen. Instead, the fear locks the anxiety, making it even more pronounced and debilitating.

Please note that you don’t need to memorize all this. The reason why I’m telling you these things is to make the task of identification of your particular stage fright easier for you.

Identifying Your Stage Fright

 Anxiety always feels in the solar plexus, and fear always feels in the back, in the two fist-sized areas, one located below the right and the other below the left shoulder blade, about midway between the lower edge of the shoulder blades and the waistline. Again, I’m telling you all this purely for reference purposes, so you’ll have a clearer picture of where to look what I’m about to explain.

Lean back in your chair or lie down on your back, relax, and think of any stage fright–inducing situation, real or imaginary. Observe very carefully what happens sensation-wise in the middle of your torso—the area in which your anxiety and your fear are.

Pay particularly close attention to the very beginning of your stage fright’s formation. While the entire process is very complex, the way your mind triggers stage fright in your body is simple: It makes you clench specific muscles in the middle of your torso, making you experience a shift in sensations there to the ones that your mind then interprets as stage fright. You need to catch the moment before the stage fright appears, because this is when your mind triggers your stage fright in your body. As you replay the stage fright–provoking situation several times in a row, try to intervene in this mechanism of emotional shift. First, try to exaggerate the muscular pressure on the areas of anxiety and fear. If you did it right, your stage fright should become worse in that particular situation. It means that you’ve correctly identified the areas and you can influence your emotions via manipulating your muscle tension. Now, replay the same situation in your mind again, but this time instead of exaggerating the muscular tension in the areas of anxiety and fear, don’t let the muscles tighten up at all. For a regular person, such intentional relaxation of unusual muscles is possible but difficult. Let’s see what can be done to make this task of muscular relaxation easier.

Exercises to Control Stage Fright

With practice, you can develop the skill of relaxing the muscles that produce your stage fright completely. The reason why you can’t do it naturally is because you never practiced. When you were a child, you had to learn to walk and even to use your hands. You can teach yourself to take over the control over your stage fright the same way. The way to do it is to intentionally tense up the muscles in your middle torso—the same way your mind does it—so you’d trigger your stage fright. Then relax the involved muscles, until the entire stage fright dissipates. If your muscles—no matter how large the area is—don’t barge, and you still feel part of your stage fright, then stretch those muscles by bending your middle torso in the direction opposite to that of their constriction. For example, to release the tension that gives you anxiety, you need to stretch backward, arching your solar plexus forward. If you feel your stage fright hasn’t completely disappeared, gently but firmly stretch the muscles using your hands or fingers—as a form of massage—by sliding them downward along the muscles that still hold tension, switching to circular motions when they run over bones or internal organs.

Do not try too hard. As you repeat the exercises over and over again, your muscles will become able to contract and relax to greater degrees. Another crucial aspect to this method is that the control over the muscles that produce your stage fright comes from slow and smooth repetitions of conscious tension and relaxation. As you tense up and then relax the involved muscles, try to do so as slowly as you possibly can, while not letting the movements become jerky. Repeat this exercise about 200 times a day, avoiding tiring your muscles much, but gradually increasing the degree of tension, so the tension exceed that of an intense stage fright. When you feel your muscles become tired, take a break and then resume the exercise. After about three months of such training, you should develop control over the muscles involved in production of your stage fright to the point of being able to effortlessly disrupt its formation.

If after a few months of such training, you still feel some remainder of your (hopefully former) stage fright, observe carefully which muscles still squeeze the areas in your torso in which you experience the sensations that your mind interprets as stage fright, and adjust your exercise so to include those muscles. This method usually allows you to take full control over your stage fright, but of course various issues may arise. If, for some reason, you experience difficulty using this method, please do post your questions on this blog, and I’ll try to answer them.   

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