Performance anxiety is both psychological and physiological. In fact the physiological symptoms can exacerbate the psychological ones with distracting thoughts such as “everyone can see that I’m shaking and sweating”.
This fight or flight state has its merits as it gives us focus and energy but when it’s excessive we become preoccupied with irrational fears and may even freeze.
The primary physiological symptom of performance anxiety is an elevated heart rate and we know we can control our heart rate with our breathing.
So my suggestion is to practice from time to time with an elevated heart rate (try 30 seconds of high knees and 30 seconds of jumping jacks before you sing). This will familiarize you with singing in a fight or flight state making it less of a surprise when it’s time to perform.
Use the same principle to do the opposite when it’s time to perform. Side stage take 2 minutes to slow down your breathing. Breath in for 4, hold for 4 and out for 4. Your heart rate will reduce and you’ll feel more in control again.
The uneasy feelings about singing in front of others can come from a lack of clarity on why you’re doing it in the first place. When I’m clear and confident with my intention behind my performance the wish to control what others may think about me tends to fade away.
Are you doing it for other people? Are you doing it because live music has moved you so many times you’d like to do the same for someone else? Are you doing it so people will admire you more? Are you doing it because it’s a great challenge and you know you have it in you to conquer this fear of performing? Being clear on your intention, present in the moment and grateful for the experience will set you free!
It may take some time before you’re truly feeling stage ready, so be patient. I promise that feeling of being in flow on stage and connecting with an audience is one of the most powerful experiences and is worth the wait and the effort. A vocal coach can help speed the process up by creating a plan, checking in weekly, suggest repertoire, be your personal cheerleader to keep you motivated and your professional eyes and ears to adjust any bad habits in your technique. Having an accountability partner in this process could lead to so much more than just one performance goal; suddenly singing and music become a way of life!