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Natural Remedies and Techniques for Performance Anxiety

1. Lemon Balm 

Many of us are familiar with Rescue Remedy but have you come across Lemon Balm? Lemon Balm is a natural herb related to the mint family and it has shown to help reduce anxiety and improve memory function in the brain. Not only beneficial to the nervous system, Lemon Balm holds multiple potent properties and may even help with digestion, mood, sleep, and skin health among other potential benefits. You can read up on verified studies and documented research about this natural herb through the US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health archives and on WebMD.

I initially came across this herb from the Medical Medium series and have personally seen and felt helpful benefits from it. With any herb or supplement, always consult a professional and do the necessary research for what is best for your own body and personal needs.

2. Breathing 

We need to breathe in order to survive yet we often forget to incorporate it into our regular practice as a musician. With high pressure situations like auditions and performances we require a vast amount of stamina and breath control. The volume of inhalation and direction of air creates the resonance in wind instruments but can also be equally as helpful in terms of phrasing melodies and controlling nerves for non-wind instrument players (violin, percussion, piano etc.)

There are many different forms of breathing practice techniques out there but focusing in on the breath for just 5-10 minutes is a great place to start. While on a walk, I sometimes bring my attention back to my breath and the flow of air. Recognizing it and becoming aware of the air and the space inside my body.

The air we use to speak is different than the velocity and depth of air we use to sing or play a wind instrument. A simple and easy breath work practice to incorporate is: inhale to the count of six and 'hiss' the exhale breath out to the count of 12. You can access a further breakdown here.

When the jitters and nerves come during high pressure situations, the body uses up more oxygen so that the brain does not scramble into a fight or flight situation. Find and customize breathing exercises that work for you and your set up. Most importantly, you want to find a breathing exercise(s) that you will stick with over time.

Another helpful resource is Gurumayi Chidvilasananda’s yawny breath exercises.

3. Releasing control over certain situations

Sometimes you may be given that 9am audition time slot (or earlier). The early morning audition slots strip away the comfort of having extra time to warm up. It is easy to fear or anticipate these situations but are manageable to overcome with a shift in thinking and practice.

I broke this small 'conditioning' in undergrad when my professor would often schedule private lessons and often performance class for 8:50am. I remember the initial feeling of worry with not having the extra time to work on fundamentals or lots of warming up beforehand. But in the short sense, it was worry or second guessing that can inhibit the preparation rather than missing out on an hour of practice!

Practice these situations by waking up early and allowing yourself only five minutes to warm up before playing through a list of excerpts, an etude, or an audition piece to completion. Examine how you go about the 5 minute warm up before you 'perform'. Are you feeling tense or open? What 'warm up' helps you the most in only five minutes? Try to calculate the feeling in this setting and imprint it in your practice. With practice, discovery, and awareness - it can only improve.

Finally, release control and allow certain situations just be; whether it's an early morning audition, a train delay, or a dry acoustic audition room - at times our only option is to just 'go with the flow'.

Don't allow these micro situations mess with you into playing your best. Believe in yourself and your gift!

4. Rituals and Flow over Goals and Results

In the book: Ikigai - The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Garcia and Miralles) explains the idea of having rituals (over goals) which can help us into entering a state of flow. Rituals are like habits backed by meaning and purpose. We can build up these meaningful habits to then build the momentum in coming closer to the desired goal or better yet the improved self. It is easy to feel lost or overwhelmed by fixating solely on the end result or win.

Some of my own 'rituals': 

-working on the fundamentals of my instrument (reach for my best playing, to make progress)

-listening to a variety of music outside of classical music (to have a variety of inspiration)

-move my body and get out in nature (hit the refresh button & have some balance in the day)

-something as simple as making my bed every morning (habit forming and consistent routine)

Good habits and rituals can yield more progress which can then form more positive habits later on. Goals are generally concrete things that we want to manifest but the process and preparation itself can also yield results long term. The loss of a goal happens more often than the win for most of us but trust your journey and the work you have put in.

Once you achieve that desired goal or result, you generally move on wanting more or perhaps something greater but keep in mind that your level, awareness, and musicianship also rises with you.

Highly recommended book: Atomic Habits by James Clear

5. 24 Hours

Take 24 hours and then let it go. You receive a rejection or had played what you thought was an awful audition. Allow yourself 24 hours to process the situation, have your favourite meal, call a friend, or pop a balloon; yes pop a balloon! Once I was frustrated by a rejection after what I thought at the time was a pretty good audition - one of my professors told me to go blow up a balloon, write a curse word (or any word appropriate you feel expresses your annoyance!) then pop it and move on!

Rejections and embarrassment happen often and are not a sign of weakness or lower self-worth - they are only a sign to help guide you further. You can shape yourself and learn in many beneficial ways from each audition and concert. Ideally, we want to unblock it and move forth so that we can reach higher for the next time. Holding onto excess energy and over analyzing the rejection can stall progress and most concerningly affect one’s mental and physical health long term. Take the 24 hours for you personally however you feel is best - not only with an audition or interview rejection but for many other situations in life we may come across. Pop that balloon or just allow yourself to binge watch your favorite Netflix series.

6. Ready to go

Memorizing, knowing the score, understanding the context of the piece, creating new rhythms and practice patterns with that piece or tricky passage. With extended techniques or difficult passages - create your own exercises or isolate the spots that need more time. We want to work out the tough spots to lower the margin for 'error' so that we can enjoy the performance rather than allowing it to feel like an obstacle to overcome. It’s all too often that we practice the parts we are great at but avoid the fixable situations in our technique or music. Sometimes it needs a little more attention or care - other times just trust that all will be great come the concert or audition.

7. Mindfulness

I am not initially referring to what we think as the Buddha sitting in complete silence meditating away his thoughts to clear consciousness. In this case, I refer to mindfulness in any moment at any given time in the day. When you are walking outside you can focus your attention on how green the leaves are or the unique design on the house down the street that you pass by. I love the notion of “stop, breathe, think”. Take it into your practice with your instrument and feel both your feet and the weight of your body as you stand there. Perhaps in bed when you fall into some late night thoughts - bring your attention back to one focus; to something you are thankful for rather than worried about. You can apply this focused attention on whatever grounds you back into your centered self in the audition room before you begin to play.

© Michael Alampi - Unblocked Musician

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