Performing, What's the Big Deal?

Linda Dessau

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Performance anxiety is not something that only happens to musicians, singers, actors and dancers. It happens any time we feel pressure to “perform" in a specific situation or over a period of time. Writing a book or creating a painting or sculpture may evoke symptoms as well.

Symptoms of performance anxiety include “butterflies" in the stomach, quickened heart rate or more severe symptoms such as hyperventilation, dizziness or intense fear.

The 5 main reasons for performance anxiety are:

1. We're not present in the moment, inside our body.

When we're focused on our (negative) thoughts and on what we *think* about what's happening, as opposed to just taking in the sensory information from around us without analyzing it, we miss out on what's happening.

2. Perfectionism.

Unrealistic expectations can warp our perceptions of how great we actually are!

3. Lack of training in performance-specific skills.

Sometimes our training is focused more on the execution of our art form, and not specifically focused on helping us become comfortable and confident performers. Performing is not natural for everyone and needs to be learned.

4. Past trauma.

People who have suffered abuse or trauma have a much harder time being “exposed" in a performance setting. Sometimes, also, we have had traumatic experiences to do with our art form – such as critical teachers or harsh performance experiences.

5. Difficulty connecting with other people.

Gifted performers have sometimes grown up very isolated because of time spent with their art form instead of “playing" with their peers. When you generally think of yourself as different or an outsider, or in terms of “me" and “them", being in front of an audience just magnifies that and it becomes more difficult to think of the audience as lovingly receiving your talents and gifts. Instead you may see them as judgmental or unkind.

The ideas in this article were adapted from the Level I Training in Performance Wellness developed by Louise Montello of Musicians Wellness. Visit Musicians Wellness at

(c) Copyright 2005, Genuine Coaching Services.

Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, helps artists enhance their creativity by addressing their unique self-care issues. To receive her free monthly newsletter, “Everyday Artist”, subscribe at


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