More Than Pre-Show Jitters: Performing With Anxiety

Being involved in the performing arts is difficult when you’re just as involved in your own anxiety.

No, I’m not just talking about backstage jitters. It’s not the kind of anxious that makes your heart race and your palms sweaty right before your grand entrance. It’s the dryness in your throat whenever you realize with great dismay that you have to order at the drive-thru, or the absolute dread you feel upon having to make a phone call.

So, what exactly is anxiety?

It is easy for people to feel nervous or worried; it’s a human emotion. Anxiety disorders are different, though, and can cause distress that may impact the way you live on a day to day basis, depending on how severe your anxiety is. Anxiety can cause dizziness, nausea, sleeping troubles, or just overall uneasiness, which, as you could imagine, could be easily overwhelming and serve as a major obstacle for those affected.

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people aged 18+, which is 18% of the population, and can be easily treated, although only 1/3 of those who struggle with anxiety receive the proper treatment.

Among this affected 18%, there must be at least a handful who are performers. Sometimes, this anxiety, this constant gnawing uneasiness, can interfere with your ability to be creative. In other cases, though, much like mine, you can use it as fuel; it can propel you forward.

A performer we all know, Emma Stone, has spoken about her anxiety disorder publicly. “My brain naturally zooms 30 steps ahead to the worst case scenario,” she says. Stone described her anxiety as a “crushing monster,” saying that if she focused on what needed to be done, the monster would leave her alone and fade away. She soon discovered another way to shrink the beast: performance. “I started acting at this youth theater, doing improv and sketch comedy,” she explains, “you have to be present in improv, and that’s the antithesis of anxiety.”

While anxiety may seem like a complex obstacle course when you think about pairing it with performance, it can be rather the opposite for some. Every one has an outlet, whether it be writing, performing, photography, reading, or even something like bird watching, and channeling negative energy into something creative and fun is beneficial for the mind and overall well being.

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