Fear. Debilitating. Crippling. You know it. Whether it’s speaking in public or going on stage. It starts with a quickening of your pulse, and soon your fingers are numb and your face is flush…it’s just like getting punched in the face – well, sort of.
I’ve been punched in the face a couple times. The first time was in 4th grade. School had just finished for the day and ‘tough guy’ Kurt decided it was my day to be picked on. Kurt was much bigger than me (I was always one of the smallest in the grade) – and most kids just stayed away from him. In today’s world Kurt would be labelled a “bully“, but back in the 70’s he was just ‘tough’. On this particular Fall day, Kurt pushed me. I decided to push him back. He punched me in the face. So much for that lesson.
The next time was in 10th grade. Me and “Eddie” duked it out near the lockers. I can’t even remember what started the fight – teenage testosterone I guess. After a brief argument, he just hauled off and punched me in the face. “I can’t believe he just punched me!”. Time sort of froze as I realized it wasn’t so bad. As my adrenaline kicked in and my body turned into an angry meatball, I threw a flurry of punches back – knocking Eddie to the floor (he never bothered me again – in fact, I can’t remember anyone bothering me after that).
The weird thing about any serious altercation – your body automatically creates chemical responses which are (seemingly) out of your control. Quickened heart-rate and breathing. Heightened sensitivity to your surroundings. Time passes slower. These reactions are part of the “fight-or-flight” response you’ve heard about.
This brings me back to “fear”. Why is it we’re afraid to “speak in public” (Glossophobia) or “perform in public” (Stage Fright)? I mean, this isn’t life-or-death, is it? It’s hard to believe performing in front of other people is on the same scale as getting punched in the face (or, for that fact, getting eaten by a lion) – RIGHT? Well, for some odd reason this is precisely what it feels like.
Whenever I perform – regardless of the size of the audience/venue, I get a nervous belly. I can’t eat. My hands get clammy. My heart races. I’ve found meditation and breathing exercises help. I also find a small dose (20-40mg) of Propranolol helps with the clammy hands part (important if you’re playing piano). Still, I have yet to conquer this fear, and still searching for the best way to punch it in the face.
So, how do you handle fear?