How Top Performers Overcome Stage Fright

Have you ever experienced extreme butterflies or ‘Stage Fright’ before performing in front of an audience or entering out a high-anxiety situation? You’re not alone, stage fright is a common issue for many musicians, public speakers, and anyone who has to perform in front of an audience of some sort. Here we look at what causes stage fright, what the symptoms are and several effective ways to get rid of stage fright.

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How to get rid of stage fright and perform at your best in front of audiences and in any high anxiety situation.

Are you a musician that gets butterflies in your stomach before you’re about to perform on stage? Maybe you’re a speaker, and your heart starts pounding in your chest right before a big speech in front of a big audience? Or, perhaps you feel weak and light-headed as you’re about to take an important exam?

If you regularly experience nervousness before performing in front of audiences, or before crucial moments at work or school, you might be suffering from stage fright. Here, we’ll take a look at what stage fright is, some of its potential causes, as well as some natural remedies like meditation, exercise, and others that can help you combat anxiety on the stage.

What is Stage Fright?

Also known as performance anxiety, stage fright is a form of a social anxiety disorder (SAD) that is characterized by negative thoughts about one’s ability to perform, and the fear of an adverse reaction from the audience.

According to a survey of over 2000 professional musicians conducted by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, 24 percent of them suffered from stage fright. Some of the contributing factors were too much pressure to perform well and inadequate preparation [1].

And it isn’t just musicians. Most likely, you have heard that public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have, more than financial ruin, and even death. Performance anxiety is often responsible for the loss of self-confidence, which can cause people to not pursue their goals and dreams.

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What are the symptoms of stage fright?

Most performers experience some anxiety before they take the stage. Due to the tense nature of the situation, your body thinks you might be in real danger and activates the fight-or-flight response [3].

However, if your stress response is too severe, it becomes problematic and causes stage fright, potentially affecting your ability to perform to the best of your ability.

If you have stage fright here are some of the symptoms you might experience right before you’re about to perform [2]:

  • Trembling, cold and sweaty hands
  • Shaky voice
  • Racing heartbeat and pounding chest
  • Butterflies in your stomach, maybe even nausea
  • Dry mouth

Severity of stage fright varies from person to person; from relatively mild to the point where one is unable to perform.

Why do I get stage fright?

One of the most significant factors that contribute to stage fright is your own expectations about how your performance, your speech, or your test results will turn out. If you perceive that you aren’t adequately prepared, you might expect that the audience will have an adverse reaction to your performance. Or that your audition won’t go well and you won’t get the role.

Stage fright can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative thought patterns about your own ability to perform can impact your performance, causing you to think the anxiety was warranted, making it more likely that you’ll experience stage fright in the future.

Are there risk factors that make it more likely for me to get stage fright?

There are some known risk factors for social anxiety disorder (SAD). Since stage fright is a form of SAD, it is possible that some of these risk factors might also increase your likelihood of experiencing performance anxiety.

One of the possible risk factors for developing SAD is having overprotective parents as a child, as well as experiencing lack of warmth during childhood [4].

Children who were abused, bullied or teased excessively might also be at a higher risk for SAD and stage fright. As adults, having conditions that can draw too much attention (like physical disfigurations or speech disabilities) could be risk factors as well [5].

Some other risk factors for social anxiety disorder are having other mental disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression, as well as medical conditions like heart disease and obesity [6].

How do top performers usually deal with stage fright?

To combat stage fright and performance anxiety, many performers turn to beta-blockers. Beta-blockers are a class of pharmaceutical drugs that block the effects of adrenaline hormone (also known as epinephrine)[7].

By blocking the effects of adrenaline, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response, beta-blockers lower the stress on the heart and the force with which it has to pump blood. This ends up having a relaxing effect on the blood vessels in the heart, brain, and all over the body [8]. The overall relaxing effect of beta-blockers help performers remain calm and combat stage fright.

Some beta-blockers that are commonly used by performers are Inderal (Propranolol) and Sectral (acebutolol). It should be noted that while beta-blockers can provide temporary relief to help someone get through a performance, they are not long-term solutions since they don’t address the underlying issues responsible for social anxiety disorder and stage fright.

What are some natural alternative to help me deal with stage fright?

If you don’t want to continually rely on beta-blockers every time you get on stage or walk up behind the podium, there are natural remedies available to alleviate stage fright symptoms.

You can start by assessing if there is any room for improvement in your lifestyle. Are you eating a diet that provides your body with all the macro and micronutrients it needs to function optimally? Are you regularly getting adequate exercise? What is your sleep like?

Your physical health and mental health are closely intertwined, and it might even be argued that they are one and the same. Eating healthy foods like wild fatty fish, leafy green veggies, fruits, and whole grains has a positive effect on your overall health, including things like mood and stress.

In a cross-sectional study of 3172 Iranian adults aged 18-55 years, researchers found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet (a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats) were less susceptible to psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, and psychological distress [9].

A regular yoga practice can also benefit you when it comes to performance anxiety. There is some evidence to suggest that yoga can help increase your heart rate variability (HRV), a measurement of the variation in time between each heartbeat. An increased HRV is an indicator of the body’s ability to better handle stress response, which could help counter stage fright [15][16][17].

Beyond adopting a healthier lifestyle, here are some other natural remedies to combat stage fright.

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Meditation may help you overcome stage fright

Meditation is the technique of focusing on your breath, a particular thought, or a mantra, to practice attention and awareness, experience mental clarity, and a calm emotional state.

Meditation has been used for ages in various cultures throughout the world to reduce stress and optimize mental health. Research has also shown us that meditation can be used to reduce anxiety. Other benefits of meditation include decreased blood pressure, and changes in brain waves associated with the fight-or-flight response that causes stage fright [10][11][12].

There are many ways to get started with a meditation practice. You can find plenty of free instructions on the Internet, or find a local yoga studio that will most likely have meditation classes on their schedule. Otherwise, you can download the Headspace app, which is one of the most convenient and beginner-friendly tools available to help you build a daily meditation habit.

Magnesium supplements may reduce stage fright symptoms

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in many functions within the human body. Magnesium helps keep heart rhythm steady and maintain healthy blood pressure, both of which could have an impact on the severity of stage fright symptoms [13].

According to some estimates, around 50 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended daily amount of magnesium. The standard American diet, which lacks in fresh fruits and vegetables, is thought to be one of the primary contributors to a lack of magnesium in our food [18].

Not getting enough magnesium can impact your health negatively in various ways, including increasing your risk of anxiety [19]. Getting adequate magnesium in your diet can aid in overall relaxation [21], which could contribute to a calmer state of mind when you’re on stage.

Some of the best dietary sources of magnesium are dark chocolate (must contain at least 70 percent cocoa, we recommend Lindt 70% dark chocolate, mostly because it’s delicious), avocados, brazil nuts, and leafy green cruciferous vegetables like kale, spinach, and mustard greens [20].

Thorne Research Magnesium Citramate for stage fright symptoms

If it’s not feasible for you to eat magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, you can also take it in a supplement form. We recommend Thorne Research Magnesium Citramate (which is Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s favorite brand as well).

What is CBD and can it help with stage fright?

You may have been hearing about CBD a lot lately, especially how people all over America are using it to promote overall health and wellness.

If you’re not familiar, CBD (Cannabidiol) is an extract of hemp, which is a part of the cannabis plant family, like marijuana. But unlike marijuana, CBD from hemp is extremely low in THC, the chemical responsible for the high feeling people get from weed. So, hemp-derived CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning that you cannot get high from it.

However, while the research is still in the preliminary phases, there is some indication that CBD might have many of the health benefits of cannabis. Especially when it comes to supporting joint health, sleep, relaxation, and mood. And according to one study, CBD can help with stage fright during a speech performance [22].

You can use CBD in various ways. You can use a tincture to place CBD oil under your tongue, you can apply CBD topically, or you can take it in capsules or even gummy bears.

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In 2018, Congress passed the Hemp Farming Act, which lifted many restrictions on the cultivation of hemp products. As a result, CBD is now legal to purchase under federal law. However, each state has different laws regulating CBD, and you should check with local authorities before ordering CBD online.

While CBD is considered safe for human consumption, you must consult with your doctor before taking CBD, especially if you’re taking any medications.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address the causes of stage fright

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to take challenges you find overwhelming, such as stage fright, and to shift your mindset around them. CBT seeks to replace your harmful thought patterns by breaking them down into smaller parts, and then by replacing them with positive ones [23].

When dealing with stage fright, your therapist will work with you to identify the underlying issues that are contributing to your performance anxiety and help you address them through various techniques and assignments.

Your therapist might look at your limiting beliefs about your self-worth or any embarrassing moments you might have had over a bad performance in the past. He or she might also evaluate your tendencies for excessive perfectionism and your fear of judgment from the audience. After a thorough evaluation, a treatment plan will be created to address your specific needs.

CBT seems to work best if you believe it will work and put in the effort to make it a success. There’s evidence to suggest that CBT is effective in reducing anxiety in social situations, and that its benefits are long-lasting [24].

Final thoughts

Stage fright is a common condition among musicians, professional speakers, and others that have to perform under pressure. It impacts one’s ability to be their best and often deters them from pursuing their passions due to fear of being judged negatively, along with other undesirable outcomes.

While beta-blockers might be an effective short-term fix, they don’t really solve the problem by addressing the real causes of performance anxiety. If you suffer from stage fright, we recommend that you try as many of the above-mentioned natural remedies as possible.

Each of them can be beneficial on their own. However, if you combine eating right, doing yoga, meditating, taking supplements, and speaking to an experienced therapist, it is more likely that your stage fright symptoms would improve more significantly, and you’ll be well on your way to pursuing your goals and dreams and becoming the best performer that you can be.

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Products mentioned in this article

Reference List:

  1. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618811/
  2. ^ https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/stage-fright-performance-anxiety#1
  3. ^ https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/performance-anxiety
  4. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515922/
  5. ^ https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561
  6. ^ https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=20196
  7. ^ https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/hypertension-treatment-beta-blockers#1
  8. ^ https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/drug-cabinet/beta-blockers
  9. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31185883
  10. ^ https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
  11. ^ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/integrative-mental-health-care/201808/meditation-and-mindfulness-anxiety
  12. ^ https://docs.google.com/document/d/1d_6lp8LyleuJudVBf5pnBoH80aYsivyJ0QBgyZAUqtI/edit
  13. ^ https://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-magnesium#1
  14. ^ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180226122548.htm
  15. ^ https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression
  16. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5900369/
  17. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728961/
  18. ^ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180226122548.htm
  19. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024559/
  20. ^ https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-foods-high-in-magnesium#section10
  21. ^ https://www.huffpost.com/entry/magnesium-the-most-powerf_b_425499
  22. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079847/
  23. ^ https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/296579.php
  24. ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016703/

Agnit is the lead writer for uVitals. As an avid health and fitness enthusiast, he is passionate about writing content that helps people take control of their health to live happier, more productive lives. Someday, he plans to listen to his own advice and drink less coffee.

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