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Performance Anxiety - An alternative view

Updated: Feb 15

What if an aspect of performance anxiety is actually performance excitement?

Over six years ago I embarked on an arts practice research into performance anxiety. Approximately eighteen months into the research it became evident that focusing on the issue of performance anxiety itself was creating a problem – the attention was on negative experiences both for myself as researcher, but also for my students that I worked with for over two years during the research. I concluded it is acceptable to establish what our negative issue is, but once that has been identified, then the focus must be on developing our own personal “tool box” that we can draw on to begin the journey of enhancing our performance experience.

Osbourne et al. (2014) explains that we experience a number of physical changes prior to performance such as increased heart rate and physical tension. However, depending on whether the performer considers these sensations as enhancing or debilitating will determine the performance experience. If the performer views the sensations as debilitating, then this may have an extremely negative impact on the performance. Osbourne identifies the three key factors contributing to peak performance – music competency, control over the physical body and psychological well-being.

My own research data identified situations where students confused the experience of “nerves” and “excitement”. Through my work with individuals/groups experiencing anxiety, it has become apparent that even if the person does not believe they may be confusing nerves with excitement, by simply "accepting" the idea this can have a positive effect in overall perception and in time the performance itself. This relates primarily to individuals who do not have previous experiences of excitement, success or joy during performance.