Nothing is better than making music. Whether you’re belting out the lyrics to your favorite song or picking out the notes on a guitar, music is a deeply personal experience. When it comes to sharing your music with others, both on stage and online, the thought can be frightening or even downright terrifying. If you start to sweat at the thought of performing in front of a crowd, you’re not alone. You should also know that you don’t have to let your stage fright keep you from performing. 

Identifying the symptoms and manifestations of your stage fright is the first step toward learning to deal with it. Read on to learn six simple tips to help you overcome your fears during your next performance.

What Does Stage Fright Look Like?

Musician performance anxiety is often included under the umbrella of social anxiety disorder(SAD). It’s a type of anxiety or panic brought on by the thought or act of performing which is why it’s also known as stage fright. Musicians who experience stage fright are often overly critical of themselves before, during, and after a performance which leads to a host of physical and mental symptoms. 

These are some of the physical symptoms of stage fright: 

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension 

Though the physical symptoms of musician performance anxiety tend to be the most noticeable, there are others that can be just as severe. Stage fright can affect you cognitively as well, increasing negative thoughts or anxiety and causing you to dwell on the things that could go wrong. There’s a psychological element to it as well. You may experience feelings of inadequacy or a fear of disapproval. It may even get the point where you feel like the performance is a test of your own personal worth. 

These physical, cognitive, and psychological symptoms are difficult to deal with because, in some cases, you may not be able to put your fears into words. Many musicians who experience stage fright change their behavior in response to their symptoms, canceling auditions or postponing performances. It becomes a dangerous cycle of negativity that may keep you from doing what you love. 

Tips for Dealing with Stage Fright

When you see professional musicians on stage, it’s easy to imagine they are confident and untroubled by the crowd in front of them. In reality, stage fright affects as many as 40% of American adults including famous performers like Rhianna, Adele, and Andrea Bocelli. Musician performance anxiety is real and more common than you might think, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t treatable.

Here are six simple things you can do to control your stage fright:

1. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically

When you’re not feeling your best, even the smallest issues can become magnified. If you’re already feeling nervous about your performance, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself mentally and physically. Stick to your regular routine in the days leading up to the performance, eating well and keeping yourself hydrated. Avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcohol and make sure to get plenty of rest so your mind is sharp and focused.

2. Don’t Try to Fight Your Nerves

Being a little bit nervous isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it keeps you on your toes and invested in the performance. If you feel like your nerves are limiting you on stage, you may need to do a little work ahead of time to figure out how to manage them. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to completely dispel your stage fright overnight but learning how to perform through your nerves will help a lot. 

Start paying closer attention to how you feel when you think about an upcoming performance or when you start practicing. Learn to recognize the symptoms of your stage fright when they begin and, instead of trying to push them down, channel that nervous energy into your performance.

3. Do a Dress Rehearsal

You never know exactly how you’ll feel until you step on stage, but preparation can help lessen your nerves leading up to the day of your performance. Spend time practicing in the performance space if you can and do a mock dress rehearsal with friends and family in the crowd. Practice as much as you can as well – if you’re confident that you know your piece well, you’ll have less to be nervous about. 

4. Try to Stay Positive

If you suffer from musician performance anxiety, you probably have a tendency to anticipate the worst. You imagine yourself forgetting the lyrics in the middle of your song or someone in the crowd booing you. Instead of fueling your worries with negative thoughts, try to focus on the positive. Remind yourself how much you’ve prepared and think about the friends and family you’ll have in the audience. Everyone will be there because they want to see you and experience your music – they don’t want you to fail.

5. Seek Professional Treatment

As much as you try to control your thoughts and suppress your nerves, you may not be able to control your body’s physical response to the fear of performing. One of the most effective forms of treatment for severe anxiety is desensitization and virtual reality is a tool you can use to try it. 

Using virtual reality to create a 360-degree simulation of a performance situation, you can create the illusion of a performance and practice your coping mechanisms. Over time, your body may adjust, and your physical symptoms may lessen. In the meantime, medication like propranolol might help.

6. Keep Performing

Though virtual reality treatment can simulate the nerves you might feel on stage, there’s no substitute for the real thing. The more you perform, the more desensitized you’ll become to the fear and every positive experience you have will boost your confidence for future performances. Even if you don’t feel less nervous in subsequent performances, you’ll at least be able to counter your negative thoughts and worries with evidence – you completed a performance without all of your fears coming true.

Being a musician is challenging but few things worth doing come easily. If you love your music and want to share it, don’t let your stage fright stop you. Acknowledge your fears and learn to identify your symptoms, but don’t give in to them. Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and take as much joy as you can from each and every performance.