Nervous stands up too

It is my experience that no matter how easy the music or how many times I have delivered the workshop or no matter how simple the thing is that I need to do, I have noticed that the minute I stand up in front of others to perform, ‘nervous’ stands up beside me.

And often it is screaming right into my ear!

It is the worst when I deeply care about the outcome of what I am doing, like auditioning. I am asking the audition panel to accept me into ‘the orchestral tribe’. Most musicians and performers have spent a lot of time preparing and in many cases have spent almost our entire lives practicing and having lessons in order to ‘win that job’.

Music competitions are also high pressure, as well as being judged in music exams. We are asking people to think well of us, sometimes asking them to think more highly than ‘the others’. Public speaking is a terrifying experience for a very large percentage of people and many refuse to do it.

‘Nervous’ can be extremely unpleasant, but I think the worst part is that it affects how well we perform. And  sadly, once you have experienced nervous having a negative effect on your performance and your life, you probably will start getting nervous about getting nervous, and so begins a vicious cycle of narrowing and avoidance and stress.

Please like me

Over the last few years I have been looking at my own stage fright (music performance anxiety) or ‘nervousness’ through the lens of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT (pronounced as the word ‘act’). ACT says that the human brain hasn’t changed much from when we were living as hunter gatherer tribes in caves. So the ‘acceptance’ part of ACT is to put down the struggle with parts of us that are unalterable, stuff that is hardwired into our brains for survival millions of years ago.

From the ACT standpoint, ‘nervous’ is our mind and body’s reaction to the hardwired need for social approval. Human success is thanks to our ability to work together. Groups need to be cohesive and to some extent group members need to conform to the needs of the group.

So the nervous that turns up when we are standing in front of others I now think of as humans wired to worry about what others think of us. We can’t help what our bodies do when we dare to think that we have something to offer in than context. We are wired to experience shame when things don’t go well.

So ‘nervousness’ – social anxiety or music performance anxiety or stage fright –  cannot just be switched off when we perform.

Your brain is literally saying ‘Please like me’ because in the bad old prehistoric days, if the tribe didn’t approve of me, I would be kicked out of the tribe and I would die.

You can’t problem solve your way out of nervous

And we cannot think our way out of nervousness. Our brilliant problem solving techniques will not make it go away. Trite recommendations like ‘Pretend the audience are wearing silly hats’ or ‘Imagine the Panel is Naked’. Trying to follow these rules while remaining focused on performing at the limit of your skill level, AND stopping anxious thoughts and feelings from taking over just overloads your nervous system.​

Would you like to learn how to change your relationship with nerves and learn to allow the scared and shaky to just be there while you get on with doing a great performance?

Make friends with nervousness

Welcome nervousness in.

It is a sign that we are all undeniably connected to each other. A sign that our music or our words and vulnerability can build our relationships with our tribe. A sign that you care about what people think about you. A sign that you are human, that you are alive.

If you would like to learn how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can change your relationship with nervousness contact Deborah on or call the office on (03) 9133 0891.