Music performance anxiety

Music perfomance anxiety is a term given to anxiety symptoms reported by a surprising number of muscians in the performance of their art.  In the arts, the illusion exists that perfection is possible (it isn't) and it's against this impossible standard that artists learn, perform and are judged over many years.

The roots of anxiety could relate to the fact that the study of the art often begins in early childhood when children are immature and unable to process the experience and stress of learning appropriately.

Anxiety manifests in the body as physical symptoms which the artist may not even relate to stress.  They may complain of cold hands, muscle tension, pain and other physiological symptoms but believe that their problems are "physical" in nature rather than of deeper cause.

For vulnerable individuals, the act of walking onto stage, into a lesson or playing for any audience can become a fearful and humiliating experience.  In the arts, and in fact many walks of life, there can be a social stigma associated with stress related problems that prevent many from seeking help or just seeking help for the physical symptoms of stress rather than the underlying cause. Sure enough stress cuases tension in muscles which may inhibit performance but just tackling the muscles issues will not respolve the problem.  As we now know chronic stress is dangerous and potentially life shortening.

By using psychophysiology and biofeedback concepts the aim is to highlight the issues and learn to control the stress response.  By using a muli-modal (mulitple sensor) approach the performer can see how they personally are responding to a stressful situation and learn a new behaviour.

BioTrace+ software with a NeXus unit allows multimodal data capture

For example, built into the Biotrace+ software of the NeXus biofeeback units we have a couple of built-in stress profile scenarios; or you can create your own. With these stress profiles we have a a few minutes of baseline recording when the performer can sit quietly and perhaps read a magazine so they are alert but in a norrmal state. This can be followed by periods of induced stress followed by a period of relaxation. during this time data is recorded from mutliple sensors.

A NeXus 10 is portable enough to use in active performance siutations

These sensors provide vital information of the status of the individual's autonomic nervous system (ANS) and they help the observer identify exactly how stress is manifesting in the performers case. 

A debrief with the performer can highlight which sensor may be utilised as part of a biofeedback training scenario. For example, it may be noted that the breathing pattern becomes shallow and rapid during the stress periods, the heart rate quickens and the peripheral skin temperature falls. Perhaps there is undue tension in the shoulder and neck muscles?

One can use biofeedback for example to encourage a deeper, more regular pattern of breathing which in itself will influence the heart rate and peripheral skin temperature.  By using feedback that rewards useful changes in these signals the artist can learn to deal with this stress response.

Biofeedback can be a useful modality to try with all who seek high performance in sport, business or the arts.  Indeed this is happening around the world by those who seek an edge in performance and better health as a result.