Performing or speaking in front of large crowds can be extremely terrifying. We call this feeling “stage fright.” Even though it might sound insignificant, the idea has interested many people inspiring them to think about the reasons why it happens and how we can possibly prevent it from taking over our brains.
In a TEDEd video by Mikael Cho titled The science of stage fright (and how to overcome it), Cho describes public speaking as: “A fate some deem worse than death.”
As explained in the video, the fight or flight response is a major factor of the anxiety that hits a person as soon as they walk on stage. This is usually seen in animals when they are approached by something intimidating. When a person is up in front of a crowd, that response is telling him or her to either deal with it and make it through or to run for his or her life.
The video goes on to explain that when a person’s body experiences stage fright, their hypothalamus triggers their pituitary gland to emit the hormone ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone), making their adrenal glands launch adrenaline to their blood. Then, their back and shoulders will tense up, and their arms and legs start to shake. It is common to start sweating and blood pressure will rise. The digestive system shuts down so that they are getting a necessary amount of nutrients and oxygen to muscles and fundamental organs. The pupils dilate and it is difficult to see anything close, like notes. However, it is very easy to see far away, forcing the person on stage to look straight at the terrifying crowd in front of you.
What we are trying to understand is how to get rid of this phenomenon. The fundamental steps for getting over stage fright are perspective and practice. First, remember that this is not all in your head. It is a completely normal, hormonal, full-body response. Also, genetics can be a huge factor in social anxiety. Keep in mind that this is natural, so focus on what you can control. This is when practice comes into play. It is important to practice in a similar environment to where the performance will be because it will make it a more comfortable and normal-feeling situation.
“I get stage fright as a dancer,” said freshman Maya Garard. “All I do is just focus on having fun and enjoying the moment.”
Knowing the reasons for this overwhelming anxiety should help with performing in the future because it will be easier to trick the brain into thinking it is not as bad. Putting your arms behind your head and taking a deep breath is a good thing to do before going on stage. Ultimately, there is no way to overcome stage fright, only ways to adapt to it.