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Reducing Performance Anxiety: How to De-Stress

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There is a LOT you can do to perform at your best. Stress-reduction techniques fall into two groups:

  1. In the moment: Reduce, reset or alter tension and anxiety when it happens.
  2. Prepare in advance: Prevent stress so that you STAY loose, creative and empathetic.
  3. Have a plan. It can be as simple as starting by listening to bird sounds a few times a week!

Techniques to manage your stress system deal with one or more of the following connected areas: breath and voice, stress chemicals (e.g. adrenaline), movement and muscles, brainwaves and thinking patterns.

A Stress Reduction Practice Program for Performers

I’ve found some simple, fast and powerful ways to reduce stress in muscles and posture, so I’m not going to get much into systems like the Alexander Technique, Somatic Experience, Feldenkrais, etc., but these and similar approaches can all be useful.

Your autonomous nervous system’s job is in part to keep you alert, but this can mean building and holding stress that you do NOT want. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to manage the signals that create and maintain stress.

Skip any of these steps that you don’t think apply to you, but DO try at least a few. I’m putting these in the order that I’ve generally found easiest or most most useful to voiceover students, but any one of these might make the most difference for you.

Beta Blockers • Drug

If you have been prescribed a beta blocker (e.g. Metoprolol, Bisoprolol, etc), don’t forget to take it as prescribed! Some performers find Beta Blockers to be quite calming, so you might want to keep some handy in case you forget to take your prescription and have a practice, audition or session to go to. Beta Blockers can reduce the ability of adrenaline (epinephrine) rate to increase your heart rate.

Diaphragmatic Breathing • Low-Stress Breathing Pattern

Your brain and body work together to keep you in “fight or flight” mode when necessary. That’s their job!

Improv loose, don’t have inner walls pressing on you

The more behaviors you subconsciously think are wrong or inappropriate, the more inner blocks you will have.

Expand Your Range/Go Too Far

Improv exercises, change thinking blocks, overdo it, “go too far” and let us pull you back. You can’t increase in small amounts, you must overshoot and pull back.

I’ve seen voice talent over and over fail to take simple directions and if pressed, give an excuse like “you can’t mean you actually want me to do that“. Yes, sometimes you actually have to make a funny voice and wave your arms around. This is one reason so many voice talent started in improv, stand up comedy, or musical or comedic theater. They’re aren’t as uptight, don’t have as many inner blocks.

Physical space loose. Behave like you are NOT stressed.

Improv  – Open up range, end inner blocking of putting limits on yourself

The 5-Minute Somatic Reset

Physical – Somatics

Trigger Top Sense Modalities

We all notice sense modalities such as touch, smell, sight, sound and others in our own unique way. Learning to trigger what engages you the most can reduce stress and increase your engagement with your performance.

A quick example is to to give yourself a mental reset from time to time using a sensory object. Hold and move your fingers around the object while giving your full concentration to how it feels. The object could be a stress ball, smooth stone, piece of fabric with an interesting texture, or almost anything small that you can hold and focus on its sensation.

Movement off Mic

When you aren’t recording you can move around more. But stress often subconsciously limits the ways you move, and allowing yourself only tight, limited motions increases stress.

A typical trick is to place your water far enough away that you have to step to reach it, and practicing moving in de-stressed ways every time you pick it up.

Reset – step back, fabric, placement of water

– practice

Creative hemisphere sync – toning

Overview of Techniques

Breath and Voice

Learn to create low-stress breathing both consciously and unconsciously, and work with vocal techniques for breath, resonance and placement. Benefits beyond stress management include improved articulation and expanded performance skills.

  1. Learn techniques to “trick” yourself into taking calming breaths.
  2. Practice low-stress breathing patterns, such as diaphragmatic breathing—breathing from lower in your lungs
  3. Learn how sound and breath naturally cycles (beginning, middle and end of breath) to more consciously get the benefits of relaxed breathing.
  4. Control the causes of desired and undesired speech and sounds.

Stress and Calming Biochemistry (e.g. Adrenaline, GABA, Nootropics)

Some quick definitions:

  • Nootropic: A compound that improves brain function. e.g. Vinpocetine (improves brain blood flow) Choline (if in your brain), Racetams (Piracetam, Oxiracetam, Aniracetam, Pramiracitam, Phenylpiracetam, etc) and many others.
  • HPA Axis: Your body’s stress management chemical system.
  • Glutathione: Your body’s primary antioxidant. Can only be taken in S-Acetyl or liposomal (a gel liquid) form (though some celebrities take it by injection). Has a healing effect on the HPA axis, boosts a feeling of “well being”.
  • GABA: A well-being/calm chemical in your brain.
  • Electrolytes: In typical order of importance, potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium

About the HPA Axis: Your brain checks if there is stress, then sets of a cascade of chemical signals that among other things makes your heart beat faster and faster. This is your H>P>A access. H (brain hypothalamus) sends a signal that ends in A (adrenal/adrenaline) causing things like raised heart rate. The intermediate step, P, stands for pituitary. Each step in the process can send signals backwards as well as forwards, increasing stress.

It’s difficult to separate diet from supplements or drugs here. Typical things you can do include

  1. Reducing stimulants,
  2. Balancing electrolytes,
  3. Increasing glutathione,
  4. Increasing brain GABA (taking GABA and niacin, Picamilon or Phenibut),
  5. Decreasing stress responses (such as by taking beta blockers),
  6. Improving brain focus (getting more choline into the brain, improving brain blood flow, taking racetams and related non-stressful nootropics).

Movement and Muscles

Prevent or reduce stress with techniques such as Somatic resets, and kinetic (motion) triggers. Prepare and move as if you are NOT stressed.

  1. Practice movement habits and reactions that keep you moving and feeling loose, to prevent stress.
  2. Learn techniques to “trick” yourself into taking a relaxing breath without realizing it, so that your breath sends a “de-stress” signal into the autonomic nervous system.

Brainwaves and Thinking Errors

  1. Ensuring that calm brainwaves (Alpha) are not being blocked by stress/alert brainwaves (Beta).
  2. Resetting, replacing AND avoiding unconscious stress patterns. Avoid unconscious beliefs that constrict your performance. Certain improv warmup techniques help here. Improve your performance range.
  3. Practicing in advance to create more synchronous, creative and empathetic brainwaves.