Performance Anxiety

I started playing and writing music at 16.  I remember that I was totally uninhibited playing (I’m sure some awful stuff) in front of others.  I would belt things out so loud.  After many years of not playing, and then getting back into it, I found that I was terrified.  My fingers literally stopped working when I tried to perform (I play finger-style guitar…I can’t just fake it with strumming with a pick).  I would break into a terrible sweat and be reduced to nothing.  I found that the more I played in front of people, the better it got.  But I could not play to the best of my ability.

I learned about a technique, really a form of therapy used for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and also performance anxiety, called EMDR.  It stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.  Essentially you identify an issue that is causing a problem and develop a series of scores (like a scale from 1 to 7) related to it…like various scenarios that conjure up the problem.  Then you sit in front of a screen watching a special light while wearing headphones that emit sounds and holding little plastic handpieces that vibrate.  Before my last gig, I did a session and discovered that it significantly changed my level of apprehension.  It did not disappear…but it was muted.  My fingers worked better (not perfection…but they never are).  I’ve got a gig coming up in 3 days and so did another session.  I find that I am feeling again less apprehensive than I would have in the past.  If you have that same paralyzing level of performance anxiety, you might want to check it out.  Let me tell you, as a physician, I was VERY skeptical and thought it looked like hocus-pocus.  If it was, then so be it.  Because it helped.


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