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Kicking performance anxiety to the curb - Sarah Marshall

Updated: Apr 28

So, you’re feeling sick to your stomach.. Your legs are jittery, (in fact everything feels jittery and uncoordinated!)...

Your heart is beating so loudly you can hear it in your eardrums...

You’re breathing too fast and desperately afraid you’re going to vomit... You rush to find a bathroom only to find you can’t actually vomit but you need to wee for what seems like the 50th time in the last 20 minutes! As you wash your hands you notice you’re sweating profusely...what’s with that? It’s not THAT hot.

Now you are probably asking yourself “why did I sign up for this?"

Yes. Pre-performance nerves can sometimes make the job seem too hard.

So next time you feel like this... rather than focussing on all the weird and uncomfortable sensations your body is feeling...try these steps instead.


Recognise your body is preparing you to do something extraordinary!

With extra oxygenation of muscles you can move faster and with greater confidence knowing your body is primed to be energised rather than lethargic or sleepy. Your braIn is activated, able to respond quickly, think fast, to recall and deliver lines effortlessly with emotional intent. With your digestive system shut down you won’t be bothered by bodily functions. No pressing urge to use a bathroom or feeling hungry mid-performance.

Your body is priming itself to help you perform your best.


Ready your mind

As you know, your voice only responds to what your brain asks it to do. It is therefore imperative to ready your mind so that is primed and able to focus on the task at hand so you can perform your very best, as you might on a good day in the practice room!

Stand in a Superman pose (legs apart and stable, hands on hips, shoulders back and head erect) (Cuddy et al, 2015).

Breathe - inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4 and hold for 4 - repeat 4 times

Relax - continue breathing as above but now on exhalation relax a group of muscles, then move on to the next group, begin with the face and work down to your toes

Feel - remember the feelings and sensations you experience when you are performing well, when you are mid-performance, feeling confident, singing easily with the audience in the palm of your hand - maintain this feeling for 3 breaths

Sound - remember the sound of the first phrase as you sing it well - keep repeating this for three breaths

At this point, you are probably feeling a bit more zen than you were a few minutes ago. Your brain is quieter. Now you are focussed and ready to go. SING!

Cuddy, A. J. C., C. A. Wilmuth, A. J. Yap and D. R. Carney (2015). "Preparatory power posing affects nonverbal presence and job interview performance." Journal of Applied Psychology 100(4): 1286-1295.


About the author

Sarah Marshall is a singing teacher, examiner and adjudicator with tertiary degrees in performance, psychology and counselling. She works widely with performers and educators to assist with managing performance anxiety and helping them to learn cognitive skills they can pass on to others. In addition to private counselling, she regularly runs workshops for both performing arts educators and students.

Check out Sarah's website - ANATS is the peak professional association for singing teachers in Australia. We help teachers of any style of singing to be the best they can be, by provide professional development, advocacy and community for singing teachers and other voice professionals across Australia.

We welcome members from all musical cultures, vocal styles and singing or teaching environments.

We are committed to building an inclusive culture that encourages, supports, and celebrates the diverse voices of our industry.


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