You’ve rehearsed, you’re prepared and still the week before, the day before and the morning of your big presentation, you feel that growing pit in your stomach, the sweaty palms, and the faster the minutes tick by, the worse it gets.
How do you deal with this (normal) nervousness, which can make you feel quite ill?
As part of the theatre rehearsal process for my Portland and New York City performances, I’m coaching myself through pre-performance jitters and talking to experts about how to handle the butterflies, which can sometimes feel more like winged dinosaurs flapping around my stomach.
Here are 5 mindfulness techniques I’m practicing to calm performance nerves:
Re-frame the feelings. “We need stress,” says psychologist and meditation teacher Mark Miller. “When we're a little bit stressed, we remember things and we have access to internal resources. It's a good state of activation.” So, instead of thinking about this stress or nervousness as a feeling I don’t like, I’m saying “Wow, what a good state of activation I’m in! I’m ready.”
Treat yourself with compassion. “If your mind starts looking for problems, practice self-compassion,” Miller says. You can do this by saying things to yourself like, “I know this,” or “This is me wanting to be successful.”
Pay attention to the audience. If during your presentation, you start to feel self-conscious, this can make you feel more disconnected and thus, more nervous. When this has happened to me in the past, I turn my attention outward to focusing on the audience or on the story I’m telling. Even noticing the feeling of my feet on the ground helps. It takes me out of my head and into my body which helps me feel more grounded and present.
Give the nervousness a new name. According to Miller, the physical sensation that I interpret as nervousness is similar to the feeling of being exhilarated. It’s just that I’m interpreting this feeling and labeling it “awful.” But when I feel the butterflies, I can also say to myself, “Oh, that’s me being exhilarated. How exciting!” Miller explained that the more I try to push my feelings of nervousness away, the bigger the feelings will feel. “Welcome the sensations, have gratitude for them,” he said.
Don’t believe everything you think. Sometimes when I’m nervous, I start to think about all the possible things that could go wrong and my mind is very ingenious coming up endless worst-case scenarios. Miller suggests that I don’t pay so much attention to the content of my thoughts but instead “look at the mind like a busy freeway.” This echoes the reading I’ve done by Sharon Salzberg where she teaches a form of noting. So rather than listen to the content, I just label it “thinking” or “remembering” or “forecasting” and nothing to worry about!
Let me know what’s working for you to calm your nerves as you prepare for your next speech, pitch or presentation. I’d love to hear. Comment here.