What is Stage Fright?
Stage fright is also known as Public Speaking Anxiety and is one of the most common fears in the whole world. The rapid breathing and hole-in-your-stomach feeling you get before you get on a stage to speak in front of an audience. Shallow over-breathing, or hyperventilation, often prolongs feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stage fear worse. These symptoms even happen to some of the most experienced public speakers.
Stage fear is such a common fear, that it is also the most researched. There are some techniques that have amazing results in controlling anxiety before such big moments.
In this blog, we will be focusing on Breathing techniques (Not the ones from Demon Slayer, but that doesn’t make them any less cool ;). Breathing is a unique method of anxiety relief because it’s both automatic and self-controlled, meaning even though we breathe unconsciously, the way we breathe can be manipulated or adjusted.
The Mind-Body Connection
To understand how we can control our anxiety on the stage we need to first understand the concept of MIND-BODY Connection. I want you to remember the last time you were about to talk in front of an audience or give a speech, What changes did you notice in your body’s response? Your Physiology is highly interconnected with your Mind. Recent science has again discovered something mesmerizing. It is very well known that the Mind has an effect on the body. But if I were to tell you that you can control your Mind through your Body as well, would you believe me?
“In mind-body medicine, the mind and body are not seen as separately functioning entities, but as one functioning unit. The mind and emotions are viewed as influencing the body, as the body, in turn, influences the mind and emotions”
The connection is indeed both ways. You must have heard the quote ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind’ …..Fortunately, we also have the power to deliberately change our own breathing. Scientific studies have shown that controlling your breath can help to manage stress and stress-related conditions. Breath control is also used in practices such as yoga, tai chi, and some forms of meditation. This is precisely why we can use Breath (a function of the body) to control our stage fear or anxiety (Mind response).
What are Breathing techniques?
To understand this, I want you to take a deep breath very slowly, and exhale very slowly. Within these few moments, the air you inhale goes through your entire system, filters out, and is then exhaled. That air is what Indians used to call ‘Prana’ or ‘life.’ This Prana and the rate at which it passes through your system, how fully you breathe in moments, and how well you utilize this life energy to your benefit make all the difference.
Montello says that breathwork is the best way to overcome performance anxiety. “When a musician—or anyone facing an audience—learns that he can modulate his thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations by working with his breath, he regains his sense of control over his body during a performance.”
In the world of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, the breathing techniques are an integral aspect of the demon slayers’ combat styles. These techniques, known as “Breathing Styles,” involve specific breathing patterns and forms that enhance the users’ physical abilities and allow them to fight against demons more effectively. You might perhaps not be able to do fire breathing or water breathing, because those aren’t real but you could definitely do a breathing style that will enhance your physical attributes – Confidence, voice control, strength, public speaking, etc.
Can Stage Fright be Cured?
What does Science say about stage fright? A recent study on changes in brain-body interaction observed in most meditative and relaxing practices a voluntary slowing down of breath frequency. This means that slow and controlled breathing had relaxing and meditative outcomes. The study focused on explaining psychophysiological changes induced by voluntary control of slow breathing and found out the main effects of slow breathing techniques cover autonomic and central nervous systems activities as well as the psychological status.
( For those interested in the biology of it) Slow breathing techniques promote autonomic changes increasing Heart Rate Variability and Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia paralleled by Central Nervous System (CNS) activity modifications. EEG studies show an increase in alpha and a decrease in theta power. Anatomically, the only available fMRI study highlights increased activity in cortical (e.g., prefrontal, motor, and parietal cortices) and subcortical (e.g., pons, thalamus, sub-parabrachial nucleus, periaqueductal gray, and hypothalamus) structures. Psychological/behavioral outputs related to the above-mentioned changes are increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor, and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.
Hence, Slow breathing techniques act by enhancing autonomic, cerebral, and psychological flexibility. It leaves a person in a relaxed and in-control state.
Examples of breathing techniques:
When U.S. Marine Corps Officer Jake D.’s vehicle drove over an explosive device in Afghanistan, he looked down to see his legs almost completely severed below the knee. At that moment, he remembered a breathing exercise he had learned in a book for young officers. Thanks to that exercise, he was able to stay calm enough to check on his men, give orders to call for help, tourniquet his own legs, and remember to prop them up before falling unconscious. Later, he was told that had he not done so, he would have bled to death.
If a simple breathing exercise could help Jake under such extreme duress, similar techniques can certainly help the rest of us with our stage fear and anxiety.
Let us see some of the most effective breathing exercises-
- Belly Breathing
- Humming bee Breath
- Pursed Lips Breathing
- 4-7-8 Breathing
- Box breathing (4-4-4-4 breathing)
- Mindful Breathing
- Guided Visualization Breathing
- Dirga Pranayama
- Nadi Shodana Pranayama
- Ujjayi Pranayama
- Sheetali Pranayama
1. Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing
Shallow breathing can limit the diaphragm’s range of motion, which can make you feel short of breath or anxious. Shallow breathing can also push your nervous system into a “fight or flight” response, making you feel tense and anxious. Many times women are most susceptible to shallow breathing due to society’s body image standards. As breathing causes the stomach to look fuller with air, women quite commonly take shallow breaths.
Here’s how to practice diaphragmatic breathing, according to stress and insomnia specialist Julia Kogan:
- Find a quiet space where you can sit or stand comfortably.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Imagine there’s a balloon in your stomach that you’re filling (by expanding the stomach) and deflating (by gently contracting the abdominal muscles).
- Breathe in through the nose for a slow count of two. You should feel your stomach rise as you inhale. The inhale should be very calm and light. Imagine filling your nose over the slow count of two rather than taking it all in on the first count.
- Exhale even more slowly over a slow count of three. (exhaling from your mouth may help.) As you do so, you should feel the balloon in your stomach deflating. The hand on your chest should remain mostly still.
- Focus on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body. Repeat for several breath cycles.
“Once someone is comfortable with this exercise, they can increase the time of the inhale and exhale slowly,” says Kogan. “I recommend starting with an inhale of two seconds and exhale of three seconds because it’s something everyone can do, even if they have different medical conditions that may make breathing difficult.”
2. The Humming Bee Breath
Bhramari Pranayama, often referred to as the “Humming Bee Breath,” is a calming and soothing breathing technique practiced in yoga and meditation. It involves creating a gentle humming sound while breathing, which can help reduce stress and anxiety, and promote a sense of relaxation. This pranayama is relatively simple and can be practiced by individuals of all age groups. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform Bhramari Pranayama:
Preparation: Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit. You can sit cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion. Make sure your spine is erect, your shoulders are relaxed, and your hands are resting on your knees in a comfortable position (such as Chin Mudra).
Take a few deep breaths to relax your body and mind. Close your eyes gently if you’re comfortable doing so.
- Inhale deeply and slowly through your nostrils. Fill your lungs as much as possible without straining. Feel your abdomen and chest expanding as you inhale.
- As you exhale, press your index fingers gently against the cartilage of your ears, just above the earlobes. Your fingers should not completely block your ears but should be used to gently close them.
- While your ears are gently covered, start making a low-pitched humming sound (like the buzzing of a bee) as you exhale. The sound should be resonating within your head due to the position of your fingers.
- Try to make the humming sound last throughout the exhalation. The exhalation should be slow, controlled, and complete.
- After exhaling completely, release your fingers from your ears and take a moment to observe the sensations in your body and mind.
Repeat: Practice this sequence for 5-10 rounds initially and gradually increase the number of rounds as you become comfortable with the technique.
- The humming sound should be soothing and gentle, not strained. If you feel any discomfort or strain, reduce the volume of the sound.
- Focus your attention on the sound and the vibrations it creates in your head. This can help divert your mind from daily stressors.
- You can experiment with the pitch of the humming sound. Some people find a lower pitch more calming, while others prefer a slightly higher pitch.
3. Pursed Lips Breathing
Pursed Lips Breathing is a simple and effective breathing technique that can help improve the efficiency of your breathing, reduce shortness of breath, and promote relaxation. It’s particularly beneficial for individuals with respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, but anyone can benefit from practicing this technique, especially in situations of stress or exertion. Pursed Lips Breathing can be practiced almost anywhere and at any time. Here’s how to do it:
Preparation: Find a comfortable seated or standing position. Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Take a few deep breaths to relax your body and mind. Clear your mind of distractions and focus on your breath.
- Breathe In gently and slowly through your nose for a count of two. Let the air fill your lungs without forcing or straining.
- Part your lips slightly, as if you were about to blow out a candle. Exhale slowly and evenly through your pursed lips for a count of four. The exhalation should be gentle, controlled, and longer than the inhalation.
- As you exhale through your pursed lips, imagine you’re blowing through a straw. This action creates a slight resistance to the airflow, which helps regulate the breathing rate and keeps airways open for a longer time.
- Empty your lungs as much as you comfortably can during the exhalation. Feel your chest and abdomen gently compressing as the air leaves your body.
Repeat: Continue inhaling for a count of two and exhaling through pursed lips for a count of four. You can adjust the counting according to your comfort level. Try to maintain a consistent rhythm throughout the practice.
- Pay attention to the sensation of your breath and the movement of your chest and abdomen. This mindfulness can enhance the calming effects of the practice.
- If you find the 2:4 ratio challenging, you can start with a shorter count, such as 1:2 or 2:3, and gradually work your way up.
4. The 4-7-8 Breath Method
Also known as The Relaxing Breath it is a technique created by Andrew Weil M.D., founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, This exercise can help calm your nervous system very quickly. It’s a mindfulness-based technique that focuses on slowing down the breath and extending the exhalation. This practice can be done anywhere and at any time you need to find a moment of calm.
Here’s how to practice 4-7-8 breathing, according to Dr. Weil:
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Inhalation: Close your mouth and inhale quietly and gently through your nose to a mental count of four. Allow your abdomen to expand as you breathe in.
- Hold: After inhaling, hold your breath for a count of seven. Keep your focus on the breath and remain relaxed during this pause.
- Exhalation: Part your lips slightly and exhale completely and audibly through your mouth for a count of eight. As you exhale, make a whooshing sound. Empty your lungs as much as you can during this phase.
- Take a few minutes to sit and feel the sensations in your body and mind before returning to your day.
Repeat: This completes one cycle of 4-7-8 breathing. Start with a few cycles (perhaps four or five) and gradually work your way up to eight cycles or more if you’re comfortable.
- The exhalation time is twice as long as the inhalation and breath-holding combined. This extended exhalation triggers a relaxation response in the body.
- If the 4-7-8 pattern feels challenging at first, you can adjust the counts slightly. For example, you might start with a 3-5-6 pattern and gradually increase as you become accustomed to the technique.
5. Box Breathing (4-4-4-4 Breathing Technique)
Box Breathing, also known as the 4-4-4-4 breathing technique, is a powerful breath regulation exercise that is highly effective for reducing stress, increasing focus, and promoting a sense of calm. This technique involves a simple pattern of inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and then pausing, each for a count of four. The name comes from the fact that you divide your breathing into four steps as if you were breathing along the four edges of a box.
It’s a versatile practice used by various individuals. Did You Know Box Breathing is taught to Navy SEALs and other military personnel as a means to remain composed, focused, and calm during high-pressure situations? Here’s how to practice Box Breathing:
- Inhalation (Count of 4): Inhale quietly and deeply through your nose for a count of four. Allow your abdomen and chest to expand as you fill your lungs with air.
- Hold (Count of 4): After inhaling, hold your breath for a count of four. Keep your focus on the stillness and presence during this pause.
- Exhalation (Count of 4): Part your lips slightly and exhale gently and completely through your mouth for a count of four. Let the air flow out steadily and evenly.
- Pause (Count of 4): After exhaling, hold your breath once again for a count of four. Embrace the tranquility of this moment before starting the next cycle.
Repeat: This completes one cycle of Box Breathing. Start with a few cycles (around four) and gradually work your way up to eight cycles or more as you become comfortable.
- Keep the counts consistent for each phase of the technique. This consistency is key to achieving the desired effects of relaxation and focus.
- As you practice, aim for slow, steady, and controlled breaths. Avoid straining or forcing the breath.
6. Mindful breathing
Mindful breathing is a foundational mindfulness practice that brings your awareness to the present moment by focusing on the rhythmic and natural process of breathing. By centering your attention on the sensations, rhythm, and quality of your breath, you cultivate a heightened sense of presence and awareness. This practice is a wonderful way to ground yourself and find peace amidst the chaos. Here’s how to practice mindful breathing:
- Intention: Set your intention to be fully present during the practice. Let go of distractions and engage with an open and curious mind.
- Posture: Find a comfortable seated or lying-down position. Keep your spine straight but not rigid. Rest your hands on your lap or by your sides.
- Relaxation: Close your eyes gently if you’re comfortable, or simply lower your gaze. Take a few deep, natural breaths to relax your body and mind.
- Focus on the Breath: Direct your attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of the air entering and leaving your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen.
- Observe Without Judgment: As you breathe in and out, become an observer of the breath. Notice its rhythm, temperature, and quality. Be aware of any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise without judgment.
- Gentle Refocusing: Your mind might wander—this is natural. When you notice your mind has drifted, gently and non-judgmentally guide your focus back to the breath. Use the breath as an anchor to keep you in the present moment.
- Non-Striving: Avoid trying to control or manipulate your breath. Allow it to flow naturally, observing it without any effort to change it.
- Duration: Practice mindful breathing for a few minutes to start with, gradually increasing the duration as you become more comfortable.
7. Guided Visualization Breathing:
Guided visualization breathing combines the power of intentional breath control with the creative potential of your imagination. This practice involves using guided imagery to enhance your experience of breathing, promoting relaxation, focus, and a deeper connection to your inner self. Through the imagery provided, you can create a mental landscape that complements and enriches your breath awareness. Here’s how to practice guided visualization breathing:
- Setting: Find a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed. Sit or lie down in a relaxed position.
- Intention: Set your intention for the practice. Decide what you want to achieve, whether it’s relaxation, clarity, or simply a deeper awareness of your breath.
- Guidance: You can use recorded guided visualization scripts, apps, or your own imagination to guide the imagery. If using a script, review it beforehand to familiarize yourself with the journey.
- Breath Awareness: Begin with a few moments of natural breath awareness. Close your eyes if comfortable and take a few deep, calming breaths to settle into the practice.
- Guided Visualization: Start the guided imagery by describing a calming and serene scene. It could be a tranquil beach, a lush forest, or any place that resonates with you.
- Incorporate Breath: As the visualization progresses, connect the imagery with your breath. For example, imagine the waves of the ocean syncing with your inhalations and exhalations.
- Engage Senses: As you visualize, engage all your senses. Feel the sensations of the environment, hear the sounds, smell the scents, and immerse yourself fully.
- Breath and Visualization Integration: Maintain a rhythmic breathing pattern that aligns with the visualization. For instance, if you’re walking through a garden, your breath might mimic the gentle rhythm of your steps.
- Imagination and Breath Fusion: Allow your imagination and breath to become intertwined. Each inhalation and exhalation can enhance the depth of your visualization.
- Progressive Relaxation: Progress through the imagery, allowing yourself to relax more deeply with each breath. If tension arises, use your breath to release it.
- Completion: Gradually bring your awareness back to your physical surroundings. Open your eyes if they were closed.
Anxiety is triggered when one’s Inner Critic is triggered coming up with all kinds of reasons you will fail. Once you recognize your negative thought patterns, you can reframe them in a positive way. This is especially why this technique is one of the most effective of them all.
You can use any audio youwish to or do it simply to any background music you choose to. Take the help of Guided Imagery audios if you feel you need help with your Imagination.
Yoga – Pranayama
Yoga and pranayama are practices that have a strong connection to breathing techniques. Pranayama, specifically, is the yogic discipline of breath control and regulation. Yoga is an ancient Indian practice. Within the broader practice of yoga, pranayama holds a significant role.
Pranayama refers to the conscious control and manipulation of breath. It involves various breathing techniques that are performed with specific patterns, durations, and rhythms. These techniques are designed to optimize the flow of prana, the vital life force or energy, within the body.
Pranayama techniques can vary, but they often involve different forms of inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka), and breath retention (kumbhaka).
The practice of pranayama offers numerous benefits. It can help calm the mind, reduce stress, increase focus and concentration, balance the nervous system, improve respiratory function, and promote overall well-being. By consciously regulating the breath, pranayama aims to bring harmony and balance to the body and mind.
The concept of breath control and its connection to physical and mental well-being is real and deeply rooted in practices like yoga and pranayama. These ancient disciplines recognize the power of breath as a tool to cultivate awareness, enhance vitality, and promote holistic health.
Types of Pranayama for Stage Fright:
- Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Breath): Inhale deeply, first filling the belly, then the ribcage, and finally the upper chest. Exhale fully, releasing the breath in reverse order. This technique encourages a complete breath cycle and relaxation.
- Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing): Sit comfortably with a straight spine. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with your right ring finger, release the right nostril, and exhale through it. Inhale through the right nostril, close it and exhale through the left nostril. This balances energy and cleanses subtle channels.
- Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath): Inhale and exhale gently through the nose while slightly constricting the throat muscles. This creates a soft, ocean-like sound. Ujjayi breathing enhances focus during yoga practice and encourages a calm state of mind.
- Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling Breath): Roll your tongue into a tube or purse your lips. Inhale slowly through the rolled tongue or pursed lips, then exhale through the nose. This breath cools the body and reduces stress.
Remember to maintain a comfortable and relaxed posture for pranayama practice. Practice each technique for a few minutes daily, gradually extending the duration as you become more comfortable. These techniques can be powerful tools for managing stress, promoting relaxation, and enhancing overall well-being.
A BACKSTAGE ROUTINE
Having a backstage routine is a very effective way to tackle your Stage Fright. Montello recommends that people with stage fright practice asana, pranayama, and meditation daily to lower their stress levels and make them less susceptible to an automatic fight-or-flight response. They can also try the following routine to activate the relaxation response before facing an audience.
Affirm your purpose: Montello says: “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I here?’ And give yourself a positive answer: ‘I am here to uplift the audience and touch their hearts. This performance is not about me; it’s about my giving a creative gift to humanity.’ So instead of seeing the audience as a panel of scowling judges (even if you’re on an important audition and they are scowling!) mentally return to your deeper purpose. This will change your anxiety into joy, hope, and faith in yourself.”
Practice a breathing technique for 3 to 5 minutes.
Say your mantra: Although it’s not practical to plop into a meditation pose backstage, you can silently repeat a mantra as you go about your business, touching up your makeup, fixing your clothes, or even pacing around. If you have a personal mantra, mentally hear it for several minutes, or try the universal so hum mantra. On an inhalation, mentally hear the sound “soooo,” and on an exhalation, hear the sound “hummmm.”
According to the yoga tradition, so hum is the sound of the breath, the manifestation of vital energy. By deliberately allowing the mind, breath, and mantra to flow together, we create harmony at various levels of our being and disentangle ourselves from the trivial concerns of worldly affairs.
Breathing is simple. It is so simple and that is what makes it effective. It goes with the saying it’s the small things in life that make all the difference. Practice how to breathe slowly in stressful situations, master your breath, master your world. Before you know it something as scary as a room full of people won’t intimidate you anymore! We believe in you. This is your sign to try out this technique.
If you want to learn more about how to get better at Public Speaking and overcome stage fear you can access our coaching here.