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Overcoming Stage Fright: A Complete Guide

Last Updated: June 24, 2024

Anyone who has ever felt the fear and overwhelming experience that comes with performing on stage or in front of a large audience will have asked themselves “how can I get over this stage fright?” at some point. Here we uncover several exercises that can help you overcome stage fright & performance anxiety.

How to overcome stage fright - a complete guide

Is performance anxiety holding you back from reaching your true potential?

Maybe you’re a musician and you want to take your audience to new heights with your performance, or you’re a speaker and you want to help improve people’s lives with your speeches.

Or perhaps you’re an athlete and you want to be the go-to person for your team when the game is on the line.

But every time you have the opportunity to go on stage and make an impact, that anxious feeling in the pit of your stomach washes over you, and the sweating and trembling kicks in.

The good news is that there are ways you can keep the nervousness at bay. Both short-term solutions for your next performance, and longer-term approaches that deal with the root causes of your anxiety.

Here, we’ll discuss tips and techniques to help you overcome your stage fright symptoms so you can take your performances to the next level.

Let’s get into it.

Overcoming Stage Fright Key Takeaways

If you're looking for a quick, scannable summary of the rest of this article, here are several key takeways about Overcoming Stage Fright:

  • Overcoming stage fright means looking for techniques that minimize any stress responses and help the performer remain calm so they can perform at their best
  • Fear and worry about upcoming performances result in a stress response within the body, triggering the release of specific stress hormones like adrenaline. Too much of these stress hormones put the cardiovascular system into overdrive, resulting in shaking, sweating, nausea, and other symptoms of stage fright
  • Techniques to overcome stage fright include consuming brain boosting nutrients, performing dress rehearsals, belly breathing exercises, exercises and mentally focusing outwards during performances

How do you cure performance anxiety?

There is a difference between curing performance anxiety and overcoming your stage fright symptoms before a performance.

Curing performance anxiety is a longer-term approach and will require you to identify the root causes of your anxiety. More on that later.

But overcoming your stage fright symptoms at the moment is a shorter-term solution. In this case, you’re looking for techniques to minimize your stress response and remain calm so you can perform at your best.

Do dress rehearsals to help overcome stage fright

Stress response and performance anxiety

Stress response is important to understand because that’s essentially what you’re trying to control to minimize stage fright symptoms.

If you suffer from performance anxiety, then for one reason or another, performing in front of others is a significantly stressful experience for you. Maybe you fear that a less-than-perfect performance will result in rejection, pain, or loss of future opportunities.

Your fear and worry about performing results in a stress response within your body, and it triggers the release of specific stress hormones [1]. Too much of these stress hormones put your cardiovascular system into overdrive, which results in shaking, sweating, nausea, and other symptoms of stage fright.

The techniques discussed in the next section are all designed to help you control and minimize the effects of your stress response so you can stay calm and focused before a performance.

5 techniques to help overcome performance anxiety

If possible, give all of these techniques a try. That way, you’ll be able to see which ones work best for you so you can continue including them in your pre-performance routine.

1. Consume brain boosting nutrients

One of the most effective things you can do to combat stage fright is to consume natural nutrients that promote calmness and mental focus.

GABA and L-theanine are two of the best nutrients when it comes to reducing too much mental chatter and achieving a calm and relaxed state [2][3].

L-theanine is typically found in green or black tea, and it also makes more GABA available in your brain.

Both GABA and L-theanine are linked with alpha brain waves that might help with increased creativity.

One supplement that combines both GABA and L-theanine is PerformZen. You can try PerformZen about an hour before your performance to get the most out of it.

It also contains other beneficial ingredients for calmness and mental focus, like magnesium, vitamin B6 [4], Ginkgo Biloba, and theacrine.

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2. Do dress rehearsals

Try to practice your performance in the setting of the big event if you can.

So, if you’re a concert violinist, try to practice in the auditorium. Wear the outfit that you’re going to wear on the night of the performance.

If you’re an athlete, try to practice in the venue of the game. You’ll often see professional athletes train in the opponent’s stadium before an away game.

Try to use the same techniques to give yourself an edge. The more familiar and comfortable you can get with the setting of the actual performance, the better chance that you’ll be able to remain calm and collected on the big night.

3. Try deep belly breathing

When you’re having a stress response and experiencing stage fright symptoms (also known as fight-or-flight), there’s something called the sympathetic nervous system that is activated in your body.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for shifting your body to a new gear of elevated stress and tension.

Deep belly breathing will deactivate the sympathetic nervous system and restore you into a more regular state [5].

As the name suggests, take deep breaths into your belly. Hold the breath for a couple of seconds, then slowly breathe all the way out. Then repeat the process over and over till you feel calmer.

While breathing in and out, focus on the sensations in your body. Where is the breath going, what part of your body are you most aware of, how does it feel in your chest, belly, etc.

When your mind wanders, just gently bring the focus back to the breathing.

Try this for around 15 minutes, about a half-hour before a performance, speech, or other events where you have to perform under pressure.

4. Rigorous exercise to the rescue

If you’ve ever done a hard session at the gym, gone for a long run, or finished an intense hour of yoga, you’ve probably experienced the blissful and almost euphoric feeling you get after intense exercise.

It’s quite difficult to feel anxious and nervous when you’ve just given everything you’ve got on the mat or out on the trail.

You can leverage the same principle to combat stage fright.

15-20 minutes of intense exercise before a performance or speech can do wonders for your mood and confidence.

Exercise, including yoga, has been shown to improve heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of how well your body handles stress. Meaning, regular exercise can teach you to remain calm under pressure in stressful situations [6].

5. Shift the focus away from yourself

George Clooney used to be terrified of auditions. Before he was successful as an actor, he used to suffer from performance anxiety during auditions.

It all changed for him when he was able to shift his mindset. Instead of focusing on what others thought of him, and how it affected his career, he started thinking of auditions as a way to solve a problem for the casting directors.

Clooney realized that the casting directors were desperately hoping that the next person walking in could be the ideal person for the role, and that he was in a position to make it happen for them.

You can also shift the focus away from yourself.

If you’re a speaker, instead of worrying about how the audience might be judging your every word and movement, think of the problems or curiosities that led your audience to show up for your speech.

If you’re an athlete, maybe your teammates also experience anxiety like you, and you can become the person they rely on when the game is on the line.

By focusing on how you can help others, you shift your thoughts away from your own insecurities and reduce your nervousness before a performance.

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Stage fright and social anxiety

The techniques above can help reduce stress and promote calmness before a performance. They will help you keep your stress response under control so you can focus on your performance.

But if you want to cure your performance anxiety once and for all, then you need to dig a bit deeper.

You want to get to a point where performing is no longer a stressful topic for you, where you wont experience severe fight-or-flight thoughts before performances. A little bit of nervousness is completely normal, but no more shaking, sweating, or getting dizzy.

And to get there, you’ll most likely need to deal with your underlying causes of social anxiety.

How to overcome social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is when someone experiences anxiety in various social situations like parties, interviews, dates, and performing for audiences [7].

There can be many causes of SAD like being bullied as a child, having overly critical parents, or even having an overactive amygdala (part of the brain).

One of the most effective ways to cure SAD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

You’ll work with a therapist who will help you break down big ideas, like performing for audiences, into smaller parts.

Then you’ll identify your underlying thoughts, emotions, fears, etc. around each of those smaller parts.

Finally, you’ll be assigned tasks, mental exercises, and even homework, to replace any negative thought patterns with positive ones.

CBT, if done properly, has been shown to be effective in the long run against various types of anxiety [8].

But there might be other treatments that are better for you. The best thing you can do to start addressing your performance anxiety for the long term is to talk to a licensed clinical therapist so they can create a plan that is right for you.

Key Takeaways: You can overcome Stage Fright

Many people that love to perform or speak in front of audiences get extremely discouraged when they start experiencing stage fright.

They feel trapped by their anxiety and feel like there’s no way they can ever achieve their dreams of becoming a great performer.

But the truth is that you can overcome performance anxiety. And even if you can’t completely cure it, you can teach yourself to deal with anxiety in a way that still lets you perform at your best.

Try some (or all) of the techniques mentioned above for your next few performances. And for a permanent cure to social anxiety, consider talking to a licensed therapist.

Take a look at our other guides

What is Performance Anxiety? What causes performance anxiety, what are the symptoms, and can you overcome performance anxiety?
Is anxiety neurodivergent?
Public Speaking Tips for Glossophobia
Glossophobia or the Fear of Public Speaking
The Science of Stage Fright - how to understand & conquer stage fright
How to overcome extreme golfing nerves

Leave a Comment Owner & Lead Writer

Anita is the owner and lead writer for A seasoned musician and public speaker herself, she is no stranger to the very real fear and anxiety that can strike right before a high-pressure situation. That's why Anita is passionate about writing content that helps people learn about and overcome their anxieties & social fears so that they can perform at their best when it counts and live anxiety-free lives.