The 7 Stages of Performance Anxiety

Shopping is generally assumed to be a cathartic process that most people, especially women, tend to enjoy. The feel-good term “retail therapy” has come to mean that when life hands you a lemon, you should go shopping. In other words, if you go on a shopping spree, that will make you feel better.  But I’m not your normal woman. I don’t like to shop. I only shop out of necessity. Absolute necessity. So when I found an article titled “The 7 Stages of Shopping Anxiety,” it caught my eye. It seemed to be talking about me.

But you know how my brain works by now. The more I read, the more I found correlations between the stages of shopping anxiety and my very real performance anxiety. Let’s see if you agree.

  1. Psyching UP:  As someone who only shops when I have to, I put it off shopping for as long as I can. Inevitably, when the time comes to take the plunge, I need to motivate myself.

    Likewise, especially when I was younger, the thought of going out into the world to perform for a sea of people without a life jacket to keep my head above water was scary. I had to consciously suppress the fear and engage in positive self-talk beforehand to be able to embark on the musical journey.

  2. Reaching the Market: After conquering the traffic you reach the mall or the store. You step out of your car, enter a store and find yourself in amazed by all the money you see being spent on non-essentials. And God forbid this is the sale season, with people holding on to their purchases like their survival depends on it.

    Likewise, if you take a peek at the audience, you may want to turn around and go home to avoid the crowd. You would rather try again another day, when there are less people to hear you. But performing in public is not a job for the faint-hearted. You’ve got to put on an armor of confidence and step out boldly.

  3. Looking Around: There is nothing better than entering a store and finding exactly what you want on the first try. This, however, is a rare occurrence. Usually, you have to roam around and browse at a dozen outlets before you find something you really like.

    And sometimes, you have to look around for the audience that is the best fit for you. Maybe you’re not ready to lead a tune at a jam session, but you would feel comfortable playing at the nursing home for a few seniors. Know you can totally do this, if you just find the right environment in which to play. Shop around.

  4. Decisions, Decisions: People with anxiety issues tend to over-think every single move and decision they make. They imagine a thousand scenarios of what could go wrong if they buy one item vs. another.

    When you’re asked to play a tune, you have to make the decision to play (or not) right then. No time to ponder, to dither over one tune vs. another, or to ask for some warm-up time. No time for a pep talk to yourself. You have to pick up your hammers or pick and just get after it. It helps if you already have a tune or two in mind for just such “emergencies.”

  5. Bargaining: Our mothers were epic bargainers, and they enjoyed the process. Me, not so much. I do much better in a situation with a set price, rather than try to dicker with the vendor about the price.

    When someone asks you to play in public, do you feel you would rather bury your head in the ground like an ostrich?  If pressed to play in a situation where I'm not really comfortable, sometimes I bargain and say, “Well, ok, but just one tune today.”

  6. Buyer’s Remorse: You’ve made it this far. You battled the crowds of shoppers and actually found the one thing you like, or even love. You pay, get your receipt, walk out the door, and then start to wonder, “Did I make the right decision?”

    I know there are times I wish I had observed that slogan that goes, “Just say no.” I put in my best effort but didn’t play as well as I do at home because nerves took over. Instead of having “Player’s Remorse,” consider your less-than-perfect performance to be “good experience.” The truth is, when I’ve had dulcimer-playing jobs that lasted for weeks, my nerves went completely away. My current issue with performance anxiety is due to the fact that I don’t play in public often enough.

  7. Reaching Home: When I was a child, after a shopping spree my mother would rush into the house excited about her purchases. But she’d hide them under the bed so my dad wouldn’t know how much she spent!

    When you get home from performing, YOU may be wanting to hide under the bed if you feel you didn’t do your best. Come on, self-confidence! Time to grow up! Plan to get back out there and do it again. The more often you face your fears, the easier it will get.

Performance anxiety can prevent you from doing something you really enjoy. Probably the best advice I can give is to stay prepared for an invite to play. Practice, practice, practice.

Happy dulcimering,



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