Performance Anxiety

My colleague in holistic therapy shared her personal story. She gave me permission to share it with you.


by Liesel Teversham

Last week I went to an organ recital in Christ Church, Spitalfields. It was the largest organ in the UK for about 100 years.Liesel church2

The hour-long performance was a very special experience for me. I was a musician for many years before I made a radical change to computer programming, and then 12 years ago another transition to the coaching field.

As I sat there listening to all the many, many skillful and intricate passages this young organist had practiced over and over, it dawned on me that I used to be absolutely TERRIFIED when I played my music exams every year from the age of 9. At University studying for a degree in music, that torture came twice a year.

Have you felt that kind of terror before a “performance” of any kind?

It’s often referred to as performance anxiety and even golfers can suffer from it! It’s the feeling that demands “we need to do it perfectly because all eyes are on us”, yet we fear we’re going to make a complete mess.

Humiliation at 17

I can remember one piano Eisteddfod so clearly. I was about 17 years old, and knew my music piece inside out, backwards and forwards, and could play it from memory. I knew I had to know it THAT well, because when my nerves started interfering, my brain shut off.

That day, I sat down to start playing in front of the judges, other participants, teachers and parents. You could always hear a pin drop in these halls before a student started playing.

When it got so quiet, I had the thought “Oh boy, all eyes and ears are on ME now….” and (no surprise) that set off the panic. Instantly, my fingers went like jelly. They trembled so much that I couldn’t play the right notes. I had ZERO control over them, even though I could play that piece in my sleep.

Complete brain-freeze set in as well. I couldn’t remember where I was on the page, so I couldn’t pick up after a mistake. It went from bad to worse, as my brain could ONLY focus on “What are they all thinking?”

The shame and humiliation was mortifying. I was redder than an Englishman with sunburn after a sunny day at the cricket.

I went back to my seat after a simply awful few minutes that felt like a lifetime. I had to pass my dear music teacher’s seat… the raised eyebrow and question mark on her face was enough to make me wish I never, ever had to face her again.

Have you ever faced that kind of ‘mortification’, shame, humiliation, in public? It’s enough to scar a person for life. 😊

And you know what?

That’s indeed what happens. It leaves “emotional scars” in the part of the brain called the amygdala. The part that tries to warn us of danger. This part is ALWAYS on alert, warning us of imminent doom, telling us NOT to do stuff, because we might get hurt (like the time above.)

It’s the job it has – the amygdala is trying to keep us out of harm’s way, and it’s exceedingly good at it! Even if we KNOW that no literal, physical harm will come to us….. it certainly feels like it, because of the cascade of hormones, and other chemicals that are sent into our bloodstream. In milli-seconds.

The impact of events like this

This unfortunate event of course had an influence on my life… every time I had to play in another Eisteddfod, or another exam, the amygdala was firing off desperate signals to the rest of my body that there was “danger” in this situation, and I should get away from it as soon as possible. Sending more adrenaline into my system, making it impossible for my hands to play the well-known notes…. and so the cycle escalated. Even more fear next time because “it happens every time”.

Can you see how a self-fulfilling prophecy is born and kept alive?

That fear did not stay isolated to piano playing… it arose in all situations where I felt exposed, when I could potentially “forget my notes/skills” and make a fool of myself.
It rolled over into my career as a teacher and trainer of various complementary modalities, and even technical tools, too. It didn’t matter WHAT I had to “perform” in – that very same fear kept coming up, spoiling my enjoyment of my work, entertaining me with sleepless nights and awful anxiety.

Does this sound familiar to you?

How I WISH that I was given the tools in those early years, to clear the fears before it became such a snowball. And at the same time, I’m so very grateful that I have the tools NOW, to let my primitive brain know that it’s okay, I can relax and be myself, I don’t need to be “perfect” and I’m going to be safe.

What do we need to put events like that permanently behind us?

We need to find a way to communicate with the limbic brain. That’s the most primitive part of the brain that is designed to look out for danger all the time. The amygdala is a part of this system.

We need to communicate to the limbic system that in reality, we are safe when we go up “on stage” (or wherever we need to perform). We need to send calming signals to it, and reprogram it, so to speak – because for the last 10, 15, 20 years (your number) it has believed that you’re in physical danger when you are in the public eye, and it needs to get you out of there!

EFT, Radionics, and Meridian Therapies such as Natural BioEnergetics allow you to communicate with the limbic system and turn off the ingrained belief and prevent the recurrence of the stress.

Please share your story of Performance Anxiety in the comments . If you need help turning it off, please contact me and I would be glad to help.


Used with permission from Liesel Teversham – Savvy Self Growth for Introverts. Liesel lives and works in South Africa. She is an EFT expert and runs workshops and coaches introverts. 

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