I was speaking with a client yesterday about her desire to overcome the performance anxiety she feels before speaking in public and presenting workshops. As a well-known art therapist, she feels particularly frustrated and even embarrassed that she—someone who focuses on creative and personal freedom—might be so “blocked.”
Many artists and singers (and human beings) feel this way. We want to share our joy and passion, yet all too often feel the rising up of a resistance that tells us to stop, stop, stop!
But what if that isn’t what our anxiety is actually saying? What if ‘Stop!’ is just what we’ve imagined the physical sensations to mean? We’ve come to believe the idea that we can’t be simultaneously anxious and creative. But it is just that… an idea. Not necessarily a fact.
What’s more, what if we are the ones who have decided that anxiety’s ongoing or unpredictable presence is negative? What if it is we who—in labeling the anxiety a problem—have manufactured the idea that there is something wrong with us, as well as with our creative practice and professionalism?
The reality is that making anxiety wrong—resisting it—gives it power and causes it to “stick” all the more. Everything we resist persists, and anxiety of every kind is no exception to the rule.
Our performance anxiety may go away, or it may not. Certainly, we can work to understand the root personal and cultural reasons for its presence and to unravel them.
Yet our most important work begins by allowing our anxiety to be: surrendering to its presence, however predictably or randomly it appears. Doing so allows all of the energy we have been exerting worrying about, trying to manage, and resisting our anxiety to go back into our creativity… where it belongs, and where it is certainly better-served.
I’m not saying that we have to throw a welcome parade for our performance anxiety. But when we accept anxiety—when we allow it to do and be whatever it will do and be—we stop snapping ourselves out of our creative zone and flow. Because that is precisely what is happening; anxiety doesn’t remove us from our passion. We, in the face of our fear, withdraw our attention from our art, our singing, and our love. It is we, in the driver’s seat, who steer ourselves off course.
Accepting our performance anxiety provides us with an opportunity to explore what other paths and possibilities may be available. Including that we can allow anxiety to come along for the ride, on even our most glorious creative journeys.