Have you ever tried to overcome stage fright? Most people have experienced performance anxiety at some time during their lives. Acting in an amateur theatre group can trigger stage fright. So can giving a presentation in front of business colleagues. Some people become paralyzed if they have to perform a musical composition for an audience.
People taking tests can also be gripped with terror about their performance. Symptoms include butterflies in the stomach, rapid heart rate, shaky hands, sweaty palms and dry mouth.
It is hard to do your best when you are flooded with adrenaline. But the drugs that may be prescribed to counteract stage fright have downsides of their own.
What Are the Problems with Drugs to Overcome Stage Fright?
Doctors often prescribe a beta blocker heart medicine such as atenolol, metoprolol or propranolol. These drugs slow heart rate and moderate the effects of adrenaline. However, they also can trigger an asthma attack in susceptible individuals. It is also not entirely clear that they work well against stage fright (Neftel et al, Psychosomatic Medicine, Nov. 1982).
One reader shared this story:
“I love acting, but I suffer from stage fright. My doctor prescribed propranolol to ease my anxiety during a play. Fortunately, I experimented during the final days of rehearsal. The first night, I couldn’t remember where I put my clothes during a scene change. The second night, I couldn’t recall my lines. It was a very strange and frightening experience.”
An anti-anxiety drug (benzodiazepine) such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan) can take the edge off. But they too have side effects. Some people find them too sedating. Others can’t perform at their peak. In fact, such medications may make driving unsafe.
Non-Drug Approaches to Overcome Stage Fright:
Non-drug approaches are appealing because they are less likely to cause complications. Many readers are enthusiastic about Toastmasters Clubs.
One reader suggests:
“A much better solution than drugs or therapy is to join a local Toastmasters club. They will give you the experience and confidence you need for successful public speaking.”
“There’s nothing like practice to help you deal with that type of anxiety. Every performing artist I know experiences unpleasant feelings before going on. The trick is to learn to channel them into useful expression rather than dull them.”
A bagpiper endorsed both strategies:
“I wholeheartedly agree with the writers who commented above. I play the bagpipes. When I was learning to play, I practiced constantly, both solo and with our pipe band. As I played for my first public event with the band, I was slightly nervous, but my practice carried me through the event and I didn’t freeze. After a while I rarely gave it a second thought.
“Lately, I’ve been away from the band for many years, and rarely play except for an occasional request. The last time I played with them I was sorely out of practice. My knees began to knock together, my hands were shaking, and I ended up shaking the chanter right out of the bag! It sounded like someone trying to kill several cats at once. I was horrified and walked away.
“The Toastmasters suggestion is truly the way to go. I know several persons who’ve been members and they became wonderful speakers. I’ve heard that folks who wrote down their fears and anxieties before taking a test or performing were able to bypass the emotional anxiety and fear response and maintain a strong link to logical thinking and processing. Perhaps this research will help people overcome stage fright.”
A scientists who treats musicians finds that a multi-modal non-drug approach including cognitive behavioral therapy, mental techniques and body therapies is a good way to help performers overcome stage fright (Spahn, Progress in Brain Research, Jan. 31, 2015).