How to Deal With Nerves Before a Performance

We have all been there.  It is the day before the piano performance or even the week and we have that sinking feeling in our gut.  We are a mess and our nerves are shot.  At one point in my life, I would not be able to even sleep days before a performance.  After performing in front of audiences large and small over time my nerves calmed and I am much better before I sleep.  

I want to cover some of the resources that helped me in my time of need and that might help you as well.  Take a moment in your day and follow these.  It will result in a better performance as well as a better way of life.  Bulletproof Musician has found what works for some and we have included a small excerpt.

how to reduce performance anxiety

Interacting With Others to Reduce Performance Anxiety

Hugs, phone calls, and a video

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin studied the stress response of 61 girls aged 7-12 years old.

Each child was put in front of a panel of strangers and instructed to give a speech and complete a series of math problems, which caused their stress hormone levels to shoot up.

Immediately after this evaluative performance, a third of the participants were comforted by their moms – in person – with hugs, etc. Another third received a phone call from their moms. And the last third watched an “emotion-neutral” video for 75 minutes.

The researchers found that both the in-person comforting and phone calls led to similar increases in the release of oxytocin – a hormone that can decrease anxiety and help counter our stress response.

On the other hand, the girls who watched the video did not experience any change in oxytocin levels, and their stress levels remained significantly higher an hour following their stressful speech/math test.


Social inclusion
The researchers explain that oxytocin plays a role in attachment and bonding, and that it seems to be associated with buffering social stress. Which seems to speak to one of the core elements of performance anxiety – fear of negative evaluation. Or in other words, the fear of damaging one’s reputation and experiencing social rejection.


So perhaps in times like this, a reminder that we do matter, and that we have the unconditional support and love of people around us no matter what happens in a performance, audition, competition, interview, test, presentation, or match, can help to remind us of the bigger picture. That we are much more than just a singer or harpist or clarinetist. That we are complex individuals who make a difference to the world in many more ways than just the skills we bring to the stage.


Because playing our instruments is challenging enough without adding the pressure of needing to prove our worth in the world on top of it all.  You can read more here.

Video On Techniques to Reduce Performance Anxiety:


One of the greatest things that has helped me reduce performance anxiety playing piano is practice and visualization.  Going through my solos in my imagination has given me confidence in my practice as well as my performances.  This practice tells the brain what the desired outcome you want is.  

Take time to yourself and find a quiet corner or somewhere nice to sit.  I would not recommend laying down because you will most likely fall asleep.  Doing this should be relaxing and something that shouldn't feel forced.  Once you have your desired outcome, play out the movie in your mind over and over.  Soon you will start to believe the new outcome.

The Power of Your Mind and Performance

A great find on Psychology Today outlines the power of visualization and some of the experiments performed in study groups.  

A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.  In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone. For instance, in his study on everyday people, Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, compared “people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads”. He found that a 30% muscle increase in the group who went to the gym. However, the group of participants who conducted mental exercises of the weight training increased muscle strength by almost half as much (13.5%). This average remained for 3 months following the mental training.


Noted as one form of mental rehearsal, visualization has been popular since the Soviets started using it back in the 1970s to compete in sports. Now, many athletes employ this technique, including Tiger Woods who has been using it since his pre-teen years. Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal. World Champion Golfer, Jack Nicklaus has said: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head”. Even heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, used different mental practices to enhance his performance in the ring such as: “affirmation; visualization; mental rehearsal; self-confirmation; and perhaps the most powerful epigram of personal worth ever uttered: “I am the greatest””.


Brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow – all relevant to achieving your best life!


For someone like Matthew Nagle who is paralyzed in all four limbs, mental practices have transformed his entire way of life. Matthew had a silicone chip implanted in brain. Astonishingly, after just 4 days of mental practice, he could: move a computer cursor on a screen, open email, play a computer game, and control robotic arm. While our circumstances may be less stringent than those that Matthew endures, it’s quite obvious that every person can benefit from mental practices.. find the full article here


Take Care of Yourself to Reduce Performance Anxiety

When we are unable to deal with our nerves we usually find ways to numb ourselves.  What I would do is eat whatever I felt like eating.  Most of the time this would include lots of sugars and snacks.  This is probably the least beneficial thing that you want to do.  WebMD has included a great snippet on things we can do to reduce performance anxiety.

Performance Anxiety Treatments
Here are 10 tips to help you overcome your fears and shine on stage, on the field, or at the podium:

Be prepared: practice, practice, practice.

Limit caffeine and sugar intake the day of the performance. Eat a sensible meal a few hours before you are to perform so that you have energy and don't get hungry. A low-fat meal including complex carbohydrates — whole-grain pasta, lentil soup, yogurt, or a bean and rice burrito — is a good choice.

Shift the focus off of yourself and your fear to the enjoyment you are providing to the spectators. Close your eyes and imagine the audience laughing and cheering, and you feeling good.

Don't focus on what could go wrong. Instead focus on the positive. Visualize your success.

Avoid thoughts that produce self-doubt.

Practice controlled breathing, meditation, biofeedback, and other strategies to help you relax and redirect your thoughts when they turn negative. It is best to practice some type of relaxation technique every day, regardless of whether you have a performance, so that the skill is there for you when you need it.

Take a walk, jump up and down, shake out your muscles, or do whatever feels right to ease your anxious feelings before the performance.
Connect with your audience — smile, make eye contact, and think of them as friends.

Act natural and be yourself.

Exercise, eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and live a healthy lifestyle.

Keep in mind that stage fright is usually worse before the performance and often goes away once you get started.  Get the entire post here.

The best thing I can tell you to do in life is to go easy on yourself.  Sometimes we may be too nervous to even visualize or step back from our fears.  When it gets this intense I would recommend distracting yourself with a movie or something you enjoy doing.  After you have been distracted for long enough, go back and try again.  Just remember, playing piano is fun and should be joyful.  If you need any support, please reach out to the community.



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