Professionals share secrets for coping with performance anxiety

Performance Psychologist and musician Dr. Noa Kageyama had “tried everything” to ease his performance anxiety. He tried drinking chamomile tea, taking supplements, imagining the audience in their underwear, eating bananas, and several other tactics, but nothing worked.

It wasn’t until his graduate work at The Julliard School in New York City with Sports Psychologist Dr. Don Greene that he realized that “anxiety itself is not the problem.”

“The problem is that most of us have never learned how to use adrenaline to our advantage,” Kageyama said. “By telling ourselves and our students to ‘just relax,’ we are actually doing each other a disservice by implicitly confirming that the anxiety we feel is bad and to be feared.”

Kaegayma, now an alumnus and faculty member of Julliard, teaches musicians how to overcome performance anxiety through workshops and individual coaching. He also shares his insight on a blog he started called “The Bulletproof Musician.”

According to a 2001 Gallup pool, 40 percent of adults in the U.S. fear public speaking, or experience performance anxiety, similar to musicians.

Rather than trying to subdue anxiety, Kageyama says performers should learn to use their adrenaline to fuel their performances through a process known as “centering.”

In this process, the performer should form declarative statements about their upcoming performance: for example, “I will have an exceptional performance,” rather than “I hope this performance goes well.”

Additionally, Kageyama recommends that performers take deep breaths through the diaphragm to prevent muscle tension and insufficient chest breathing.

“Instead of trying to get rid of the energy adrenaline provides by relaxing or taking beta blockers, you can learn to use it, channel it into your performance, and take your playing to a whole new level,” Kageyama said.

To help students who struggle with performance anxiety, NSU Instructor of Oboe and Music Leah Forsyth shares the strategies that have helped her throughout her performance career. For instance, she finds that practicing yoga reduces her anxiety.

However, Forsyth said “over-preparing and playing in front of as many people as you can” is the best way to overcome stage fright.

“There is something nice about perfection in music; but we’re all people, and we’re all making music together,” Forsyth said.