How to deal with stage fright?

The site is dedicated to anxiety disorders, but stage fright is something that probably affects everyone to some degree. The ability to deal with it can be extremely important, for example, even a very good pianist won’t be able to give a decent concert if his hands are shaking and he forgets what note the piece he is about to play starts with in the first place. But the problem applies not only to competitions in which one performs in front of an audience. Stage fright can ruin preparations for an exam or spoil a job interview.

It can be said that the problem has three components.

The first is genes. Here nothing can be changed, but it is very rare for someone to have genes so bad that they cannot control nervousness at all.

The second is learned and acquired character traits and skills. I met a case of a pianist whose mother yelled at him and beat him every time he tried to learn pieces by heart, telling him to play from sheet music. It wasn’t stage fright in the strict sense of the word, but every time he tried to learn something or remember something, his brain would shut down. As a result, he wasn’t able to play in front of people at all, and his mother’s attempts to make him a “better musician” made him not have the slightest chance to be even average.

The same can apply to public speaking; if someone was silenced by his parents every time he spoke up, he will have trouble speaking up to another person later on. These are things that can be unlearned!

Finally, the third aspect, the physical state of our body. Deficiencies of substances that are responsible for the proper functioning of our brain are a common affliction. We have eliminated the problem of hunger in rich countries, but we have surrounded ourselves with foods that have no vitamins and minerals in them. Drinks that are sugar water, fat, baked goods made from white flour are all empty calories.

Let’s focus on what can be learned and shunned. Usually one hears the advice “just do it, eventually the stress will pass”. We listen to such advice, force ourselves to speak in public and… it gets worse. The mechanism here is very simple, any such speech is a stress, our brain learns that such a thing is “dangerous” and should be avoided.

Here is actually one way, brilliant in its simplicity. A few paragraphs above I wrote about a mother who beat her son when he tried to learn pieces by heart. This was enough to completely destroy his career as a musician. But what if we combine learning with a relaxing stimulus associated with safety? I described the method in the chapter on phobias, where within a month it was possible to make a person faint with fear at the sight of a small spider be able to pick up a giant tarantula. Gradually, slowly, the therapists linked the spiders to pleasant stimuli. First a conversation about them, then a photo, then a video, then a spider enclosed in a terrarium, each time making sure that the patient’s brain would connect the stimulus with something very pleasant and relaxing, the key being that feeling of safety and muscle relaxation would occur, so that the stimulus would be associated with safety, not just pleasure.

With public speaking, it’s a bit more difficult to have such gradations, you can’t present a speech made by a patient on a photograph. But since we’re talking about the piano, you can start by recording yourself through a microphone, then on camera, then you can play to people over the Internet. The key, however, is to combine it with something enjoyable and, above all, not associated with danger. The best things are those that relax the muscles. A person who is afraid tenses his muscles, what I am about to write may sound silly, but our brain works that way. If the muscles relax, our brain thinks that the danger is no longer there, that it is safe.

The best stimulus is a relaxation massage, but of course not everyone has a masseur at their service. The easiest way to relax is to do full-body stretching, which should be done before exercising (for example, before recording yourself on a microphone) and after, but this is not as effective as a massage. Slightly more difficult, but more effective, is meditation. Finally, you can try Jacobson’s progressive relaxation, which is the most difficult of those mentioned, but also very effective.

Once again, I emphasize, the key to mastering stage fright is not practicing in front of an audience, but combining such exercises with a relaxing stimulus, as well as grading the difficulty of speeches, starting with the simplest ones, such as recording yourself through a microphone.

I described this in detail in the chapter on phobias:

And I discussed the principles of relaxation and stretching here:

Let’s turn to how the body’s condition can affect stress in public speaking. With help comes a clinical study where patients were given a mixture of lysine and arginine, or simply protein. It’s hard to talk about malnutrition, since the study was conducted in Japan.

It only took 10 days of supplementation for the patients’ stress hormone levels to return to normal! The response to a stimulus designed to induce fear was also tested, these people simply stopped being afraid.

There is no point in me describing on this subpage all the possible deficiencies that can lead to increased nervousness, they have been discussed in individual chapters. However, if someone didn’t feel like reading it all, a short list of the most common ones:

  • Vitamin B1, supplemented with doses of 50 to 100 mg per day for several weeks, preferably in the form of benfotiamine
  • Severe oxidative stress, it is quieted by supplementing vitamin E in doses of about 400 IU and selenium in doses of about 200 mcg for several weeks
  • Magnesium, to be supplemented only after vitamin E and selenium supplementation, about 200 mg per day in 2 servings for several months
  • Zinc, 2-3 times a day at 10 mg each for several months, no longer due to the risk of lowering copper levels
  • Potassium, 2 times a day at 1,000 mg for a few weeks, if there is an improvement, you can consider lifetime supplementation or a serious change in diet, low potassium levels greatly increase the risk of fatal diseases

And that’s it, if someone has symptoms indicating that something is wrong with his body, for example, he feels fear all the time, and not only in situations where it is understood, and the above recommendations do not help, I recommend the other chapters on this site, where I discussed in more detail possible nutritional deficiencies or diseases that can give anxiety as a symptom.