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Stress Relief and Performance Anxiety

Stress Relief

Thinking patterns -- most of which we are not aware of -- cause undue stress and anxiety.

This stress is expressed as muscular tension and is often the hidden cause of chronic pain as well as disease.

Common factors in stress and anxiety

There are two interrelated factors that most often create undue stress:
  • using more effort than needed to accomplish a given task
  • being in a hurry (losing the present moment)
It is possible to move quickly through a task without hurrying. To hurry implies an extra level of effort beyond what is necessary simply to do the action in a short span of time.

Hurrying also implies a belief in a lack of time and an unpleasant consequence if we fail to move fast enough. Consciously or unconsciously we are thinking, “I must do this as quickly as possible or [fill in the blank] will happen.” Whatever goes in the blank as an imagined consequence of not doing the activity fast enough, this consequence is as yet in the future, if it ever happens at all. We have lost the present moment.

How do we truly lessen or eliminate the stress and not merely treat the symptoms?

The Alexander Technique approaches that problem by the process of observation, inhibition, and direction. With a teacher’s guidance, we observe habitual patterns of tension in the body as we perform simple, daily tasks like sitting, standing, walking. We then give a series of new commands (direction) while not doing the old pattern (inhibition).

As we practice thinking in activity in this way, we use so much less effort that the action seems to arise by itself. Our minds are calmer because they are paying attention to the activity at hand and not adding unnecessary fear to the process. We have come into the present moment.

The result is a freer, more flexible body/mind, and this includes thought patterns and beliefs as well as muscles and movement.

" At first my goal was to fix the challenges my hidden anxiety stemmed from and I thought perhaps they were a result of over-confidence, but I found out it was quite the opposite. I then redirected my goals to develop more dramatic playing/conducting which was something I subconsciously figured out as I learned more and more about playing stances. Overall, this semester has been fantastic . . . "

— Sam S. (college student)

Sally Ahner
Nashville, Tennessee

There are many ways to relieve the symptoms of stress. To stop stress at its source — our thinking — thereby getting to the root of the problem, requires addressing thinking patterns which we may not be aware of. The Alexander Technique offers a process for noticing these patterns and changing them, if we choose.

Performance Anxiety

In addition to everyday stress, there are some situations which increase the level of stress and anxiety. Public performance is one of them.

In public performance, whether it be speaking, singing, dancing, acting, playing an instrument, or even engaging in sports activities, everything is heightened . . . for good or for ill!

We love it when the heightened effect enables us to do MORE than we thought possible. Conversely, we hate it when the same heightened effect causes us to fail in some way, and to feel foolish in front of others.

What the Alexander Technique offers that is unique is a mode of thinking and being that can be practiced WHILE IN THE MIDST OF ACTIVITY. It is one thing to meditate before a performance to calm the nerves and “get centered,” which is a good practice. But it is quite another to find yourself in the public eye as the nervousness returns, sometimes worse than before. What then?

While the Alexander Technique does not always completely eliminate nervousness, it gives you a way to manage the effects by addressing the root problem: your thinking.

Consciously or unconsciously we are afraid of something happening that is unpleasant or in some way not up to our expectations. We are also afraid of being judged by others as somehow inadequate when compared to other performers or to certain standards. Since the outcome (whatever it will be) is in the future, we have lost the present moment, and we are not paying attention to what is going on right now. Thus we often create the very situation we fear.

Instead, with practice, you can “direct” your thoughts in ways that lessen the fear that causes the shaky knees, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and “deer-in-the-headlights” facial expression. Your performance acquires the poise and presence that enables an audience to connect with you in a much more profound way. When we realize that to be beautiful, a performance need not be PERFECT, much of the anxiety from unrealistic expectations flows away.
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