Dealing with Performance Anxiety, with Dr. David Roland

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Jeremy Fisher of Vocal Press, UK, interviews Performance psychologist Dr David Roland, author of The Confident Performer, on nerves for performers, dealing with the audience, post-performance recovery, and the Flow performance.
What is Performance Anxiety?
David: I’ll give you a psychologist’s interpretation of it first. Anxiety is something that is quite natural and quite normal, which occurs when we feel threatened in some way. And that threat could be a sense of harm to ourselves, or even to someone else that we’re observing. So a music teacher for example, who’s got one of his students performing, can be more nervous than his student.
Jeremy: Absolutely, I know that feeling!
David: So that’s performance anxiety also. When we perceive there’s a threat to us or to someone we care about, we then get a range of reactions, including the physiological reactions commonly known as the fight/flight response. If you think of that in survival terms - why that’s hardwired into us - if we were threatened in the wild we’d either have to fight off this threat or escape from it. So there are two very strong responses which are totally opposite.
When we’re facing a threat like in performance, in fact nothing bad is going to happen to us. It’s not like someone is going to throw things at us that will harm us, or cause some physical injury. The threat really is more about what would happen “if my performance went wrong. I’d lose the respect of others, I’d lose self-esteem, it could affect my career…” all those sorts of things. So it’s more about social approval, the approval of others, that’s the threat. But you still get those physiological responses.
In one research study I taped up performers before, during and after a performance with heart-rate monitors. And what that showed was before a performance - coming into it - the heart-rate would go up, even though they were not performing, just hanging around. And it would seem to peak around the time they walked on stage. For less experienced performers it would generally stay high for a lot of the performance and then gradually taper off afterwards. What I think happens with professionals is that their heart-rate still peaks – and when I say peak, I mean really peak – it gets up to 160 beats per minute which is the same sort of heart-rate you might have if you were exercising vigorously. With the professionals, the heart-rate tends to drop quite quickly once the performance starts . . .  view more


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