Coping with Stage Fright: Making Friends with Fear

August 12, 2016

“Imagine Everyone in Their Underwear.”

This seems to be the go-to advice people give when someone needs help coping with stage fright.  I’ve never liked this advice, because it is a very lazy way of trying to help someone, and it makes light of a very real fear that many people have.

If you’re afraid of getting up on stage and performing, you’re experiencing performance anxiety. It’s more common than you think, and there ARE things you can do to help alleviate some of your stage fright.

Let’s talk about some things that can be done to cope with stage fright. I discuss many of these topics when I am teaching piano lessons, and I have watched many nervous students become wonderful performers throughout the years.

The best part? NONE of these tactics involve picturing your audience members half naked!

Remember that EVERYBODY is afraid of something.

There are 7 billion people on the planet. Your fear is probably not unique, and that fear might even have a big long Latin name to describe it.

Stage fright is a very common fear. Most people  experience some kind of anxiety when performing in front of others at least once in their life. The fact that you have a fear is irrelevant. How you CHOOSE to move forward with it is what is really important.

Will you choose to grow alongside your stage fright or will you allow it to cripple you?

Wave “Hello” to Your Fears and Anxieties

Somewhere along the line in life,  you may have came to believe that fear and anxiety are something to be embarrassed of and keep hidden away from others. You may take it a step further than that and try to hide it from yourself. It’s human nature to  push away feelings that we think of  as “bad.” This is unhealthy. It is OK to acknowledge and even let yourself feel your feelings!


Ignoring feelings just because you don’t like them doesn’t make them disappear.

For YEARS, I secretly dealt with heart palpitations, sweats, being shaky, feeling nauseous, and nearly vomiting every time I went on stage or had to speak in front of more than two people.  I can tell you that  trying to tough it out and pretend everything was OK did not make the anxiety go away. In fact, it just festered inside of me until I hit college, where I found myself having full on panic attacks that included out of body experiences.

I spent years being ashamed of not being able to “toughen up.” It took me until well into my late 20’s to understand and admit to myself that I suffer from anxiety and that having anxiety doesn’t make me a weaker person.

Before you develop ways of coping with stage fright, you must accept that it exists, it is nothing to be ashamed of,  it is normal for you, and there is hope to work with it.

quote-1444099_960_720Don’t Avoid Performing.

One of my students has a chalkboard above their piano where they write inspirational quotes from time to time. A few weeks ago, “Do something you’re afraid of everyday.” was written in large letters across it. I love this advice!

If you have stage fright, it is pretty natural to want to completely avoid getting on stage, or even considering getting on stage.

The thing is, the more you expose yourself to whatever you are afraid of, the less threatening it becomes. If you avoid performing, you let your fear drag you along, instead of walking alongside and working together.


Go Easy On Yourself!

Playing Classical music is  intense enough as it is.  Every piece of music you perform requires a lot of things to go just right. Sometimes – even for professionals – it doesn’t go right. This is not the end of the world, especially if you are a beginner.

If you are naturally a perfectionist, it’s likely you beat yourself up mentally over the smallest of mistakes. You probably even beat yourself up BEFORE you make the mistakes.

By all means, go into every performance prepared with realistic expectations about your abilities. Don’t allow yourself to slack off or do less than what you are capable of. But if you are a person that is naturally hard on yourself, do not set yourself up for disappointment and expect perfection every time you perform. You are a human being. You are not perfect.

Stop Worrying About What Other People Think

This is a very hard one. If you want to live your life to its fullest, you have to learn it at some point.

What other people think about you DOES NOT MATTER.

And even if it did, they probably aren’t thinking what you imagine them to be thinking. I’m not saying to go out and act like a crazy person, but stop worrying about everything you do being judged. Do things that are healthy for yourself, and enjoy the process!

Remind Yourself that you are  “OK”

Back when we were hunters/gatherers, there was a lot to worry about in the world in order to survive. When a woolly mammoth started chasing you, you needed to be able to kick up the pace and get out of their way or defend yourself to the death! That’s where the “fight or flight” response came in.

This normal biological response to stressors can vary from person to person but usually includes:

  • increased awareness of surroundings
  • raised heart rate (fluttering heart)
  • hot flashes
  • dry mouth
  • shakiness/weakness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • dizziness
  • feelings of impending doom

The first time you experience performance anxiety, it can be terrifying! It can make you feel physically ill – like something is very wrong. These symptoms are all a result of your body’s normal response to something that you see as “danger.”

If you are experiencing anxiety while you are on stage or just before you go on stage, and you don’t have other health problems to worry about, remember that you are NOT dying and nothing is wrong with you.

Learn Deep Breathing Exercises for Coping with Stage Fright

On a physical level, one of the things that has helped me the most when coping with stage fright was to learn how to breathe deeply. It sounds absolutely silly but it works.

Here is a video that I made to help you learn how to breathe deeply:

Deep Breathing Meditation Exercise for Anxiety & Stage Fright