It’s something we’ve all experienced. Your hands go cold, your heart races, and suddenly the lights seem all too bright. Maybe it was before a job interview, or during midterms, or when your solo comes up in the musical. Stage fright is all too real of an inconvenience, but Juilliard-trained musician Lisa Chisholm’s workshop Monday night explained the physiological reasons behind these symptoms and explored ways to deal with them.
“When we feel fear,” Chisholm said, “we go into a fight or flight response. The third response, freeze, is not as well known.”
When coming into contact with a stimulus, the body prepares to kill it, run from it, or stay still and hope it goes away. That, Chisholm explained, is the basis for the symptoms of stage fright.
Ringing ears, nausea and cold hands all tie back to one of the more notable sensations: an increase in heart rate.
“Like it or not, your heart is going to be working overtime,” Chisholm said.
This is, of course, in preparation for the physical acts of either running or fighting. Other symptoms, like prickling hair and sweaty hands, stem from more obscure adaptations; the first is remnants of the animal trait to make long-lost fur puff out, while sweaty hands helped primates climb faster.
So what is the solution? Perhaps not just to simply relax, as is a common proposition. Chisholm contested that too much relaxation could make a person lose their “special sauce,” her unique way of explaining the range of peak performance for an individual.
Instead, Chisholm presented solutions for specific discomforts. For those who sweat, try consuming ice to lower your core temperature. Shaky voice or tight muscles can be remedied by progressive muscle relaxation – tightening muscle groups for a moment, and then releasing. And for dry mouth?
“Suck on a lemon!” Chisholm exclaimed. “Or chew gum. But it’s more fun to tell people to suck on a lemon.”
As for some other symptoms, Chisholm admitted there wasn’t much to do about them. However, her best advice was to remember that the body’s response is natural.
“It doesn’t mean you’re underprepared or unqualified,” she said. “It’s simply because you had the thought of a threat.”