We want every musician to be in the most positive frame of mind when it comes to performing, especially during their Rockschool Graded Music Exam.

We recently caught up with life coach and psychotherapist, James Banfield, from The Liberated Mind to provide teachers and students the tools to understand, spot and overcome performance anxiety.

What is the difference between performance anxiety (stress), and an anxiety disorder?

The symptoms are very similar but performance anxiety will dissipate once the performance is over, anxiety disorder is an ongoing problem because it is constantly fed by a person’s fearful thoughts. Everyone gets nervous about performing and this is natural. But if someone is feeling constantly anxious, they should seek some professional help.

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

  • Shallow fast breathing or holding their breath.
  • Heart beating faster and harder.
  • The body may shake – especially hands.
  • Becoming tearful or overly emotional over little things.
  • Skin may turn pale – colour drains from their skin.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Dry mouth.

Coping mechanisms/reactions:

  • Becoming agitated or unable to be still.
  • Freezing or not being able to function.
  • Feeling the need to escape - Running out of the room.
  • Going quiet and shutting down.
  • Using cigarettes or other drugs.

If you suspect that one of your students is suffering from ongoing anxiety you can find out more by visiting the NHS website.

5 tips for managing performance anxiety:

By using these tips as part of the preparation for the exam your students should remain in control and perform at their best.

  • 7: 11 Breathing - When you feel nervous or anxious breath in through your nose for 7 and out through your mouth for 11. The counting engages the logical part of your brain, and deep breathing increases oxygen and signals the body to calm down.
  • Posture – Your physiology will influence your psychology. So, if you stand or sit in a strong confident posture that you will feel more confident.
  • Smile - it might seem forced but smiling releases oxytocin which makes you feel good.
  • Reframe - your feelings don’t know the difference between fear and excitement. So, tell yourself you are EXCITED rather than scared or nervous and it changes your experience.
  • Rehearsal - Mentally rehearse the performance going well (just like a runner imagining winning the race). Your mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality.

The good news is that anxiety disorders can be easily treated and completely cured with the right support. So, if you or a student are suffering you can get expert advice or treatment via The Liberated Mind.

What to do if you think that a student is suffering with depression

Depression can be difficult to spot especially in young people because the symptoms can be quite subtle and people are good at hiding how they really feel. There is also the possibility of mistaking grief or loss for depression as many of the symptoms are the same. There is also a big difference between someone feeling down or slightly depressed which is normal and a person that has clinical depression. So, it is important not to start diagnosing or making assumptions.

Here are some of the signs to look out for if you think that a student could be severely depressed:

  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn.
  • A loss of interest and enthusiasm in the things that they enjoy doing and talking about.
  • A lack of concentration and competence in what they are doing.
  • Looking tired, and moving or talking slower than usual.
  • Being tearful or emotional for little or no reason.
  • Neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Low confidence and self-esteem – constantly putting themselves down.
  • Having a hopeless attitude or being negative about the future.

For a more detailed description of the symptoms you can visit the NHS website.

If you are concerned about one of your students because their mood or behaviour is out of the ordinary you can do the following:

  • Keep an eye on them for a few weeks to see if they improve. It could just be a difficult week.
  • If things continue or get worse you could mention that they don’t seem like their usual self and ask if everything is ok? If they open up just listen and let them speak. They might tell you that a loved one has passed away or their parents are getting divorced, so they are responding how anyone would. This is why it is important to get the facts and not assume.
  • If you are still concerned that it might be depression you can either express your concerns to their parents if they are a minor, or if they are an adult recommend that they visit their GP.
  • They could also do an online self-assessment to see if they should seek professional support.
  • It is important that someone who is depressed gets support quickly. If you leave it the symptoms can get much worse and it can take longer to recover.

There are different levels of depression which will determine the kind of treatment needed:

  • Mild depression – has some impact on your daily life.
  • Moderate depression – has a significant impact on your daily life.
  • Severe depression – makes it almost impossible to get through daily life; a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms.

Mild depression could be treated with some simple therapy (CBT, NLP, Hypnotherapy). Moderate depression can be treated with the same types of therapy but they may also need additional medication (anti-depressants). Severe depression will need a specialist mental health care team and treatment plan. Exercise is another great way to relieve the symptoms of depression as it produces natural chemicals that are in the anti-depressants (E.g. serotonin).

For further advice or treatment, head over to The Liberated Mind where you can contact hypnotherapist & psychotherapist James Banfield.