On the way to Saturday’s gig, my car suddenly stalled on the freeway. In the second-to-left lane. In what was already bumper-to-bumper downtown traffic, before my stall caused several miles of stopped traffic behind me.
And… I had the mixing board and cables we were going to use!
Even with a call to 911, the police took about 45 minutes to reach me and tow me off the freeway. And it took my poor bandmate the same amount of time to slog through traffic to pick up the PA from me and take it to the venue.
Meanwhile, I sat in my powerless car in 85-degree summer sun, no AC, windows up, cars crawling by on both sides, waiting for help. Some lunatic stood on the side of the freeway, yelling at me for a good half hour, screaming that I had caused accidents behind me and that I needed to get off the road. Yeah, dude… I KNOW I need to get off the road… but in this age of texting-while-driving, I’m not about to get behind my car and push!
Needless to say, it was stressful. Near panic, even. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly – I could barely even operate my new Droid phone to make calls and send texts.
Fortunately, courtesy of a ride from the cop, I did end up getting to the gig in time to set up and test the sound system. But I was completely frazzled.
Being Stalled in Traffic is like Stage Fright
It’s pretty similar to the way you might feel if you’re going to get on stage for the first time, or before a very important gig. Hours of anxiety; you’re exhausted from stress, but you can’t calm down. You try to “just breathe,” and while maybe that helps a little bit, you still feel tightness in your chest that just won’t let go.
Here’s where these mental techniques I often talk about come in handy: learning to calm and anchor, learning to develop Deep Confidence, and having a toolbox of techniques to use when the first one you try isn’t working.
Calming and Anchoring
Calming is learning to calm your mind and your body through slow, deep breathing and conscious clearing of your mind. Anchoring is learning to place a marker there, associated with a cue, so that you can return to it quickly, even under pressure. These two techniques are both included in the Zen of the Stage DVD set and in the Rock the Stage! performance class.
I have practiced calming and anchoring many times before. When you have laid a foundation like that, you’ve created neural pathways that allow you to calm yourself under pressure, and quickly. So I sat alone at a table for a minute and anchored back into my calm space. That helped bring me down about 50%, but not all the way. So, what’s next?
Experiencing the Tension
One of the ten techniques mentioned in my eBook “10 Ways to Feel Confident on Stage” is this: when you can’t seem to make the nerves go away, let them express themselves fully and often they’ll shake themselves out of existence. I felt a tightness in my chest, so I sat quietly for a moment and explored it. How big is it? What does it feel like? How tight is it? Does it want to tell me anything? After a few moments of this, it decreased to a point where I felt like a normal human being again, ready to play the gig.
There are a lot of other techniques you can have in your toolbox. Ten of the “quick-fixes” are described in the eBook. If you would like the eBook but don’t have it, just email me and I’ll send it to you. Additional, more foundational, techniques are covered in the Zen of the Stage DVD set.
It Happens to Everyone
So what is there to learn from this experience? What I take from it is that even if you’re an experienced performer, there are going to be times when you need to know how to “talk yourself down” from heightened anxiety in order to perform. You might have a fight with your significant other. Your car might break down on the way to the gig.
Life throws a lot of things our way. What matters is how you handle them!
(c) 2010 Adrienne Osborn