Performance and Stress
When we are exposing ourselves to a situation where we experience danger, our body starts responding in a certain way, which is adverse to our normal routine. It starts blocking out everything, which is not really necessary to deal with that dangerous situation. And our sub-conscious is not really aware of what the danger exactly is, only that there is danger. And sitting down calmly and appreciate a beautiful piece of music is not exactly what our sub-conscious is interested in at that very moment. It is more interested in checking where the exit doors are and whether the shoes are suitable for a good run.
The day before the performance or examination then, you most likely will wish that you hadn't exposed yourselves to this situation and you can't see how the things you need to perform well are ever going to work on that occasion. You even feel there is no way you will find the right piano keys let alone play something at all.
There are quite a few things, which will be helpful in dealing with the situation:
1. The sub-conscious mind is programmable to some extent and in advance you can give it signals that really there is no danger. Unfortunately some of those signals require for you to have experienced a few performances already and if this is your first there is no way you can tell yourselves in advance that it really isn't that dangerous at all. Actually something you have enjoyed on a previous occasion! For this reason we always let our students give a performance before the examination and encourage them to play their pieces for fellow students and family. Family is an important factor here to help you experience some positive performances in advance.
2. Practice your performance situation in advance. The more: your practice is also performance, even with only yourselves as listener and when you see your lesson as a performance opportunity also, the more you are putting yourselves at ease with the idea that it is actually good for you.
Here you see that of course good practice helps increasing your confidence, which in turn will decrease you anxiety. Having practiced well will send positive messages to your sub-conscious that you are not in a dangerous situation really, actually you are going to do something which is good for you and you can enjoy.
On the other hand pre-performance anxiety will find all sorts of reasons for you not to practice before hand. Because not practicing sort of takes your mind off performing altogether and therefore away from the reality you will be finding yourselves in as a dangerous situation. Your sub-conscious mind is not going to tell you that you are fooling yourselves! To the contrary: Problem solved for now! By deliberately setting good practice standards beforehand you send positive messages to your sub-conscious.
3. Instead of allowing your sub-conscious mind to shut down the things you need for a good performance, shut down that sub-conscious by thinking about all the things, which you need for a good performance. Good phrasing, setting the mood and the character of the music and enjoying it. Having a good time will disallow your sub-conscious to assume that you are in a dangerous situation.
When I studied at University our performance teacher was a sadist of some sorts. He was just writing a book on the animal instincts when dealing with performance anxiety, hence he was probably in the need for juicy stories and therefore put us performance students through lots of fear and let us describe how we felt. Just a pity he didn't think it was a good thing to show people how to actually fool those instincts and provide for solutions out of the dilemma. For which reason I handed down to him a blank page with no descriptions of fear. A performance time or show should be an enjoyable thing, both for audience and performer, which hands down the secrets on how to trick the sub-conscious mind in its own little game against us or even turning the table entirely.