Today, we have Ingela Ongstad where she will talk about dealing with anxiety and stage fright. We had a similar episode a few months back on this and this will provide a different perspective on anxiety, stage fright and how to handle that.

Ingela started young with piano lessons, oboe lessons and voice lessons. She fell in love with singing and decided on a whim that she is going to be an opera singer. She got her bachelor’s degree in voice performance and shortly thereafter moved to Germany which is considered the Mecca of opera singers. She lived there for a decade and decided eventually to go back to the US. She was in her early thirties during this time, and looking for a new career path. Her husband suggested psychology and she ended up getting a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health. She is now a practicing therapist while still being a professional singer. She decided to focus more on her coaching business, Courageous Artistry, where she helps performers all over the world overcome anxiety or stage fright in all forms. Anxiety manifests in different forms such as confidence issues but its main root is fear. For example, people who are used to doing things live are suddenly experiencing anxiety with recording themselves. Now, she is mainly a Life Coach for Performing Artists. 

Generalized Anxiety vs Stage Fright

Being a performer, just putting yourself out there in an artistic way is opening yourself up to a certain type of judgement and criticism that your normal average person will not expose themselves to. It’s perfectly normal for us to be afraid when presenting ourselves to others because we’re afraid that we might be rejected by our audience. 

There are two ways that people deal with triggers. If you never had stage fright before and then something really wrong happens during a performance, some people will just let it roll off them and not let it turn into a big event. Some people though, when they have bad experiences in the middle of their careers, it shakes them to the core. Some are born really shy compared to others, but some develop anxiety due to traumatic experiences. These are usually those people who have not built their toolkit throughout their career.  The other people who are more fearful from a younger age, hopefully they have already built their skills or have their toolkit. 

We spend a lot of time studying and teaching about the business side, but maybe we do need to spend more time on mental health too. The larynx is a small muscle and it’s affected greatly by adrenaline and cortisol when we are stressed. Since this type of fear is not that talked about, it has become a taboo. Ingela believes that just like sports olympians, musicians should have psychologists that also train them to deal with fear. 

Ingela is for pushing to develop a toolkit that can be used when a performer needs it onstage. If you are not practicing these things and these thoughtworks on a regular basis and prior to needing it, you will have difficulty using it when the time comes. This can be applied generally to all things in your life, just like mindfulness and grounding. Usually those who experience stage fright also experience this in other non-performance situations. If people are not able to use it in normal situations, they are not going to remember it when stress hits. This should be just like how devoted we are to practicing our vocals.  When we have a bad experience, we start to have this thought that it might happen again. When we are onstage and feeling nervous, our system has a tendency to suddenly shut down, but when we practice enough beforehand, coping with it comes naturally. The more skills you build, the less nervous you will become. If everyone could just devote to including calming into their routines, people would be able to cope more. Why not spend time investing your time in developing this type of skills aside from just your music skills?

Pre-Performance Routine

Ingela has a free PDF for download to help prepare your ritual or routine on performance days and this is available on her website, This helps prepare one’s tool for our parasympathetic system — this is sometimes referred to as our system for calming or our rest-and-digest system. Her favorite technique is the hissing breath. This is done by inhaling through our nose and exhaling through our mouth using a hissing sound like a snake noise. Alternatively, you could also blow out this exhale as if you are blowing out through a tiny straw. You would want to do this breath 5-10 times in a row. Take a pause, and see how you feel.  If you are not yet calm enough, do it again. The science behind this is, any type of breath that we do where the exhale is twice as long as the inhale is going to stimulate the vagus nerve and kick the parasympathetic system into gear. This is going to slow down our heart rate and help the limbic system calm down. This breathing is a counterpart of the 4-7-8 breath in Eastern philosophies where it also follows the longer exhale but the hissing breath is simpler. 

At the very least, when you go to practice your music, before you jump into your routine, take a moment and do some of these breaths and think of some of your intentions for the practice. You may have some negative thoughts but teach your mind to  think of things you want to happen instead. This may just take extra 2-5 minutes to be mindful in creating our art. If in the middle of a practice and you have repeated mistakes, instead of hammering down on yourself, you can do this breathing practice instead to ground and calm yourself. During live online performances which is widely done during these times, you even can do these breathing exercises with your audience before you officially start. 

You can find Ingela Onstad and her free tools at Join her mailing list to get her free tools for download, access to her free workshops and free webinars. You can also find her Facebook Community at @courageousartistry and Instagram at @courageousartistry. She is very passionate in helping artists and equipping them with skills they never really had the chance to learn before. 


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