How to Ease Social Anxiety: Don't Put So Much Pressure on Yourself!
I usually get so anxious before any gig where I have to make a public appearance that I suffer for days and sometimes weeks ahead of time. Yet last night I had to host the reception for a solo show of my work in a local gallery and loved every minute of it. I used to make my daughter or Adrian accompany me to these events for moral support, but this time I said neither had to bother. And I wasn’t anxious before the event, either.
What made the difference? When I first moved to Ithaca seven years ago, I had a show in a very large space and had huge expectations for it. I had attended an event for another artist in that space previously, and he had crowds at his reception. Naturally, I expected crowds at mine, too. This was my debut in Ithaca, and I had plenty of anxiety before hand. I asked both Adrian and my daughter to stay with me throughout the evening.
What I didn’t realize was that the artist who had shown earlier was very well-known here, and most of the people who came to his reception were his friends and supporters. As a new resident, I knew no one and very few people came to mine. It was a dud.
Since then I’ve had other duds at Ithaca shows, and have found that my work sells much better in other parts of the country. I haven’t exhibited locally in a long time, but thought it might be fun to do one when the non-profit gallery asked me to. There would be absolutely no pressure since I expected nothing. Also, since I’ve lived here for seven years now, I know a lot more people.
The reception last night was a social event where I was the star. Everyone loved the work and was eager to talk to me about it. Adrian and my daughter each showed up briefly, but I hardly had time to talk to them.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that taking the pressure off really helps to lower social anxiety. Normally when hosting a reception for my art, I would make enormous demands of myself:
- You must dress, act, and sound like an artist (whatever that might be).
- You must talk brilliantly about your work.
- You must help the gallery sell their clients by being the kind of artist they would want to buy art from.
Wow, no wonder I always felt anxious and worried about my performance I just hope I can take this newfound low-key style with me to the next gig.
Lynne is an abstract painter and writer from Ithaca, New York. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder.