anxiety: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune; earnest but tense desire; eagerness; psychiatric tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder. (dictionary.com).
performance anxiety: Performing anxiety, stage fright Psychology A ‘flight-or-fight’ reaction in an anxious person carrying out an activity in public–eg, entertaining, public speaking–or in front of others, as in sexual activity, for fear of poor performance Clinical Tachycardia, ↑ BP, ↑ respiration, ↑ muscle tone. (medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com).
Today let’s talk a little about performance anxiety and how it can affect one’s life for a matter of moments, weeks, or days. There are many different types of performance anxieties. Anything can interfere with one’s performance: death in the family, family stress, self-doubt, self-esteem issues, body image, negative or traumatic experiences, personal relationships, pressure to perform to one’s capability, failure, or financial stress (Weiberg and Gould, 83). Any type of of athlete or performer (theatre, dance, and musician) will experience performance anxiety. It can be something simple as a brief moment of doubt, to a couple of days leading up to the performance with doubts or any of the above circumstances. How one copes with the stress is whether or not it falls into two categories: event importance and uncertainty. Event importance is just what it sounds like, how important the event is to the individual (is it a big show, is a talent scout there, etc…). Uncertainty is when you go after someone who is just as good, or two teams who are equally matched playing against one another.
Some individuals are hardier than others due to their own trait anxiety and self-esteem. Trait anxiety is “a personality factor that predisposes a person to view competition and social evaluation as more or less threatening. A highly trait-anxious person perceives competition as more threatening and anxiety provoking than a lower trait-anxious person does” (Weinberg and Gould, 85). For example I am a highly trait-anxious individual. I may be extremely competitive, but I start to doubt my own abilities and I get so determined to win that when I start to fail my perfectionism takes over and I crumble. Also, when I am putting a lot of effort or know someone is coming to a show, I put so much onto it that I become anxious and the doubts and fears creep into my head.
I have been asked quite a few times if I get stage freight. I always reply “No”. Which is the truth. I am not scared of performing or being on stage. Actually, I enjoy it. The stage feels like home. I love it when people look at me. I love to share my passion for dance/art with others. I love the compliments after the show (I had a dance instructor that one time said, all dancers are selfish because we like the praise at the end of a show). It makes me feel good about myself and my talent.
I do have performance anxiety mainly in the form of social physique anxiety. Social physique anxiety is when people become anxious when others observe their physiques. Can I say, “Hello dance costumes!”? All dancers can relate to this. We either have awesome costumes or really really horrendous costumes; which in the modern dance world it is known as a unitard (and Lord forbid if it is white). In Latin dancing, costumes are usually skimpy or revealing. Ballet class has leotards and tights. Other times costumes are just made out of horrible fabric that has no right to be on a person’s body. With me, any costume, flattering or not, is a bad costume. I recently wore an all black costume and thought I looked fat in it. Anytime I have a performance coming up I stress out. I am always worried I look bigger than everyone. That I don’t look muscular enough, that I am ugly, or that people will think I don’t look good. On top of that I am worried about my technique and performance ability. Usually the week of a performance I am spun like a top. And now I am trying to navigate the world of eating disorder recovery with the world of stage performance. Making sure I fuel myself properly before, during, and after the show. Recently I have started to take up pole fitness (pole dance), and I sometimes get social physique anxiety there due to having to wear short shorts and sports bras or tight fitting shirts. I get anxious because I think the instructor will see cellulite or fat, but yet, I know she doesn’t care. She encourages people of all sizes to embrace themselves and pole dance. I am hoping that through poling I take up that attitude and help conquer this.
I do use some therapy tools while I am battling this though. I tend to use lots of imagery and talk out scenarios in my head. I imagine myself doing the performance piece exactly as I do it in rehearsal, even better. I see myself on the stage; feel the warmth of the lights, catching the energy of the audience, seeing myself looking beautiful in my costume, executing the steps with flawless technique on my given ability. Believe it or not it works! I also try to go over in my head words I hear my other half say, “You have disordered thinking. So how you see yourself is not what others will see. Others will see you like you want to see you but can’t.”
I make it through the performances. I enjoy them. Each performance I am in I use as a tool. As a learning experience. A test; a little pop quiz on how well I can handle the high pressure situation. I may not get an A, but I am not failing at it anymore. I can now enjoy all aspects of performing and actually live in the moment; which before, I wasn’t always present on the stage and it was a fleeting moment. Now it is a fleeting moment that I can remember and feel.
Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5th Edition. Weinberg, Robert S. & Gould, Daniel.