skip to main content

Managing Performance Anxiety

Use a performance plan to help manage your anxiety. This includes using tools and techniques to help you be ready to perform.

Last updated: 20 May 2024

Performance plans are a musician’s nuts and bolts that hold everything together. They are tools and techniques that can be used to put you in the best place to perform and be ready – often referred to as “getting in the zone”.

It is important to know exactly what gets you ready for a performance and what detracts from getting in the zone. Typically, you will have your own unique list of things that help you in the lead up to a performance and on the day.

It may not be necessary to stick religiously to such a list, but in times of need it can help ensure that your mind and body are functioning in the best way possible, ready to go out on stage and perform under pressure.

Performance plans can include:

  • Answering “what-ifs”. When anxious, you may respond by imagining “what-ifs” about the unknown. Answering as many of these as possible can diminish the number of uncertainties and maximise the feeling of being prepared.
  • “During performance” plans. Be ready and equipped with responses to known or likely scenarios, rather than being caught off guard. Be prepared to combat areas such as mistakes, tension and anxiety.
  • Knowing the venue. This can help with visualisation, pressure training and gaining a sense of comfort. It can also take away the element of the unknown.
  • Mock performances. These can be helpful as exposure to pressure. They not only provide a chance try your programme or set list, but they also allow you to build the necessary stamina, get used to performing in an environment other than the practice room, and provide the chance to trial tools and techniques for managing anxiety and pressure.
  • Thinking about who is around before or after a performance. Not everyone puts you in a good place to be performance-ready. Some people create pressure, say unhelpful things or are insensitive to our needs.
  • Having a plan for on the day. What will happen in the lead up to a performance? Will the day be busy or calm? Think through all elements and do not underestimate the effects that “simple” logistics can have on stress levels, reactions, tolerance and resilience.
  • Post-performance reflection. Another important area. Here you can be at your weakest, especially if a performance has not gone well. Emotions are high, rational thinking and perspective are low, and self-confidence may need to be rebuilt.
  • Diet. This plays an important role in how you feel and in getting performance-ready. It can also play a part in combating stress and anxiety. Make sure you are eating, drinking and exercising appropriately.
  • Rituals. These are commonly used in sport to prepare for big moments such as preparing to score a goal in football or rugby. They help focus the mind towards important key words, scaling down distraction to the essential focus points to enable success – all practised in advance, of course.
  • Rehearsing in concert clothes. Silly as it might sound, musicians often do not play in their concert clothes. A concert dress or smart shoes can cause discomfort on stage and can pose as an unnecessary distraction that could have been eliminated beforehand.

This list could be endless. It is important to trial any performance plan to see what effect it has on performance. Small as each intervention might be, these techniques can combine to have a huge impact, putting the mind in a good place and enabling positivity to flow.

Prescription Medication

For some, taking prescription medication is an important part of treating performance anxiety, perhaps in combination with some of the strategies presented here.

Everyone responds to stress in different ways, and you may experience particularly heightened physical responses, so seeking the right help is important. There should be no stigma around medication if it is the right solution for you.

Please speak to your GP about managing performance anxiety through prescription medication, and please note that the Musicians’ Union cannot offer advice on this.