This morning while I was reading the paper at breakfast, I saw my name in it. The announcement was about a talk I will be giving in little over a week about my book, The Bipolar Dementia Art Chronicles. As soon as I saw my name, my vision got blurry, I threatened to bludgeon the dog for jumping up on me, and I knew right then that I was going to be miserable until the gig was over.
The last time I had one of these gigs, I was anxious and irritable the whole week before. I know what happens to me. I hate it. And yet, here I am doing another one. What happened?
Well, for one thing, I crave applause. And the best way to get it is to stand up in front of a group and perform. Maybe Mommy and Daddy never said “good job!” enough to me when I was a kid, but I have never stopped wanting more. This desire is in direct conflict with the trouble caused by my performance anxiety.
Performing well in public gives me an incredible high, and when I’m feeling high, I forget about the inevitable anxiety that precedes it. I’m also easily flattered, so when someone asks me to do a gig, I gratefully accept. There is no one to blame but myself.
One way to mitigate performance anxiety is to repeat the performance so regularly that you deaden your fears and become more comfortable over time. This strategy helped me when I was teaching at a university. The first time I stood in front of a classroom was the worst. But teaching several classes three times a week eventually numbed the fear by becoming routine.
Performance anxiety supposedly serves a purpose: it makes us work harder so that we’ll do a better job in front of our audience. If we are trapeze artists, for example, we will practice hard and be extra alert to the danger of falling. Perform well or die.
If I don’t perform well when I give my talk next week, I might be embarrassed, but I won’t die. That thought doesn’t comfort me, though. I’m more afraid of being made a fool of than dying.
Published On: January 31, 2007