Stage Fright: How To Overcome It

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Question

Hello Cheryl! When I was younger, up until about the time I was 18 or so, I was terrified of public speaking. The idea of reading a speech, being in a play, or otherwise addressing a group of people was paralyzing. After I graduated high school I started playing guitar and singing, and I fell in love with performing music. Now I'm more comfortable having the attention of a group of people than I am quietly existing, even if I'm not performing anything. What happened to me?

Thanks, this is really interesting and a great story.

My theory is that two things happened: you developed a passion that took your focus off the fear and you desensitized your fear with repetition.

One key way to overcome anxiety is to become passionate about what you want to share with the world. In your case this was music. In public speaking, if you're excited about communicating an important message, you tend to focus on your message rather than your fear. You're motivated to communicate clearly so people really get your message. There's great joy in sharing a message with others and having them "get it." There's great joy in sharing music with others and seeing the audience's enjoyment.

The other key to overcoming anxiety is desensitization. Your nervous system gets de-sensitized when you experience safety over time in a particular situation. So your nervous system is going to naturally get de-sensitized when you repeatedly go into a performing situation with a sense of safety ("nothing horrible happened last time I did this").

Let me know if this sounds accurate in your situation. And if you have other ideas or theories.

Dr. Cheryl Mathews Anxiety Coach