Performance Anxiety: Musicians On Beta-Blockers
Performance Anxiety is a huge issue for musicians. Here is an argument about the use of beta- blockers to relieve stage fright.
I haven't had debilitating nervousness in performance for many years.
I attribute this to 3 things:
1. Even in the highest circles of performers, nervousness is common.
2. Everyone makes errors but they are usually overlooked by the audience and other performers.
3. Once you recognize this it is easier to give yourself permission to make errors. As a result, your fear of mistakes will lessen and so will the terror associated with performance.
I discourage the use of beta blockers, because the user never learns to cope with performance. Other drugs such as tranquilizers or alcohol are the road to professional suicide. I once used a beta blocker when auditioning for an orchestra, only to find that I was not in control of my body. I didn't get the job.
I disagree with the statement that on beta blockers you can't overcome the real root of performance anxiety. The minute I started taking them (Inderal 10 mgm every 8 eight hours; a very small dosage) my life changed. The nervousness that started the chain reaction has never come back. I'm now totally comfortable with playing a risky exposed solo or getting up to improv in Jazz band. And the intensity of the solo is not effected! Now, because of this, I'm more sure of myself... not because the beta blockers are working... but because I can play without getting nervous. The mental effects are very beneficial: I'm sure that if I stopped taking the beta blockers (and I have as an experiment) I wouldn't have any problem performing. So, I have to say that beta blockers can be helpful in combatting performance anxiety... my point is that the physical effects are nonexistant as compared to the positive mental effects. If you try them though... you've got to have the right mindset. You must think: "I'm taking these beta blockers as a stepping stone to confidence. "
I've had horrible, terrible performance anxiety for the entire 45 years I've been performing, and I had not learned to "cope" with it yet. But I found that the effect of the low-dose beta blocker was to transform a threat into a challenge and performing has become almost a joy, which is what it should be. It shouldn't be a situation where you just would rather die than do it. Some people have debilitating physical reactions to stage fright, and it often leaks into other aspects of their lives. All I really want to say is that if you have not lived in someone else's problem, don't judge their choice of a solution.
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