The Power of Affirmations and Breathing Techniques
Hi everyone! Welcome back to Mind Over Practice. After today, there is only one more week left of the performance anxiety series. I’ve had such a great time working through this and talking about all the important elements of performance anxiety; how it affects us, why it affects us, and the factors that contribute to making us feel this way. Today we will discuss some of the most overlooked techniques for managing performance anxiety. These include breathing techniques and the use of positive affirmations.
Breathing techniques can absolutely be considered a mind-body technique, especially when paired together with the use of affirmations. This combination can help with calming and relaxing the body as well as calming the mind and replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones. The combination of the two can be used by anyone, and the best thing about it is that there are so many different breathing techniques from which to choose and the sky's the limit with affirmations. The combination of the techniques can truly be personalized. No two people have to use the same breathing technique or affirmations. It’s really best to dig deep and find a pattern and combination that works for you.
So where can I learn about different breathing techniques? Look on the internet! Honestly though, the internet is your best resource for finding different breathing techniques. For example, a simple Youtube search can help you find a variety of breathing techniques, many designed specifically for anxiety. With all the choices, you will definitely be able to find one that works for you. A personal favorite of mine is a yogi practice of alternate nostril breathing. It can be done in combination with a meditation or yoga practice, but can also be done on its own. Nostril breathing is a relatively simple practice. Exhale all the way and then close your right nostril with your right thumb. Breathe in through your left nostril (for example breathe in for a count of 5), then switch your thumb and close your left nostril, breathe out for 5 through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, switch again and close the right. Then breathe out the left nostril. This is considered one cycle of alternate nostril breathing. You can continue the cycle for up to, but for no more than 5 minutes, but remember to always end with an exhale through the left nostril. It’s important that you find a comfortable sitting position so you are not fidgeting throughout the process. Breathing techniques are in a sense, a type of meditation so you want to become as centered and focused on the breathing itself as possible.
Breathing techniques such as Alternate Nostril Breathing have been proven to be beneficial by reducing stress and anxiety and decreasing certain cardiovascular functions such as blood pressure or heart rate. Breathing techniques also improve respiratory endurance. As performers, whether we're dancing, singing, or playing an instrument, it's imperative that we have the best respiratory endurance possible to make it through phrases or not feel out of breath after dancing and singing on stage. Just as some athletes run or workout daily to improve their athletic performance, we as artistic performers are required to do the same. That’s why we practice for hours, work on improving our fundamentals and technique, and use breathing exercises to help maintain and improve endurance for when we put our practice into real performance.
With affirmations, I think it’s especially important to find some that really resonate with you and your beliefs. Sure we can use basic ones like, “I am strong”, if you feel like that resonates with you. But try being creative; affirmations can be customized and personalized to you. For example, if I’m going about my day feeling like I need a general boost in confidence or positivity to get through my day, I might say something like, “I am ready to go about my day with energy and positivity. I will accomplish everything I need to at my own pace, and will be successful in my completion of all projects and assignments.” This statement is encouraging and will help motivate me to get things done while not causing any excess pressure or making me feel like I MUST do everything at that minute to be successful. Success comes in many different forms and I am a firm believer that rest periods and breaks are necessary for success. Hence why I included, “at my own pace”.
As artists, it’s really easy for us to get down on ourselves and have a lack of faith and positivity in what we do. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s incredibly important for us to be kind to ourselves! It's really easy for us to take our practice/performance so personally because it is our craft and it is what we produce. Learning to look at things from an analytical perspective when practicing will help you remove what sometimes feels like a personal attack on ourselves. Sometimes when our articulation isn’t just right we jump to, “I suck. Ugh, why can't I get this right?” But try to look at it like, “Okay my articulation isn’t just right. What’s going on? Is it my tongue position? How much of my tongue am I using? Let me analyze what I’m doing and find a solution”. This way, we’re not attacking ourselves for not getting something right. We begin to analyze the problems and find healthy solutions.
Affirmations replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Sometimes when we go into an audition, it’s easy for us to think, “what if I mess up this passage”, or “I’m not good enough for this gig”. You have to feel confident going into an audition otherwise it’s more likely that you’ll have some slip ups. Think of affirmations that work for you, or just google positive affirmations and see what comes up that resonates with you. The positive mindset and focus that comes from the combination of affirmations and breathing techniques is what can really help someone change their mindset before a performance. Incorporating these practices into your daily life can be helpful and you may find them to be more beneficial than might think.
Please welcome my featured guest of the week, Melissa Cabey!
A Toms River, NJ native, Melissa Cabey is a musical theater actor who has worked for the Carnival and Norwegian Cruise lines as a singer and dancer. She also performed on the national and Japan tour of A Chorus Line where she played the role of Val. Growing up she did theater in middle school and high school, and later received a BFA from Coastal Carolina University in 2016. She now resides in NYC, and is going where the wind blows her!
Have you ever struggled with performance anxiety? If so, what were your most debilitating symptoms?
My first job post college was Carnival Cruise Line. I never really had crazy performance anxiety before that, but for some reason with that contract, we would do 12 shows a week, two shows in a night and you would think that with that kind of repetition and everything like that I would be so used to it. For some reason for that whole 6 month contract before every show I would feel so incredibly nervous, but it wasn’t conscious. Like I wasn’t making conscious thoughts like “Oh I’m nervous about this specific dance move”, or “I'm nervous about singing this note”. It was this weird reaction that my body would have. So about 15 minutes before the show started until about 5 minutes into the show, I would be sweating profusely; My hands would shake a little bit, I would always get a bit nauseous and my heart would beat super fast. Then that would make me consciously nervous, but it was first a body reaction and then my conscious mind would jump in and get nervous about being nervous. It was very odd and that’s the first time it happened to me and I struggled through that through my whole 6 month contract.
What relief methods have you tried, and what has worked for you?
Since then I kind of learned from that experience that I didn’t enjoy performing when I was feeling that way. I booked A Chorus Line and my goal was to kind of figure out a way to manage that anxiety. I would do a few different things, but my main thing would be to take a few minutes to myself before the show. So when it was a half hour call, I would make sure I was ready already. Like costume and makeup so I could have some time to myself. I would go into a corner of the theater, and positive affirmations were the number one thing that helped me, and linking that to breath. I would lay on the ground and put my hands on my stomach, or just stand, and I would choose different mantras. I would breathe in confidence and exhale fear. Things like that and I would play with different ones every day. But I always set aside about 5 minutes to do that, just getting those positive affirmations linked with my breath. Also currently when I’m auditioning, because I also get nervous for auditions, what really helps me the night before is doing a visualization meditation. I’ll just look something up, usually on youtube, whatever i'm feeling that day. A lot of times i'll look up longer affirmation meditations and it will list a bunch of, “I am strong. I am powerful”, and all of that. So I’ll listen to that the night before an audition and I feel like that kind of sets my mind up and prepares me. Then I wake up already in that mindset. When I’m at the audition and I’m nervous, but I don’t want to look like a weirdo, I’ll still link mantras to my breath, but I’ll think about it. When I get nervous for an audition it's a feeling in my chest, like floating butterflies. It makes me feel kind of out of control, but what I'll do even in a room with a bunch of people, I'll breathe and imagine my breath coming through my heart. I’ll think of a really happy memory. I’ll conjure up something that makes me feel really proud, or happy. A lot of times in auditions, I’ll kind of go back to how I felt on the opening night of A Chorus Line. I’ll breath in and imagine my breath coming through my chest and I’ll think of that moment and then that kind of alters how my body is reacting to things. Those are my main things that I do.
How did you hear about these relief methods?
There’s this podcast, it's called Fit for Broadway. I’m not sure who the guest was, but there was a guest who came on and she was talking about mental health. She was a Broadway touring actor as well and I think this was before I went on tour that I had heard this. She was talking a lot about healing crystals and how she brings them around with her and how meditation had changed her life, especially her performing life. After listening to that podcast I just started researching online, and that led me to Youtube, and that led me down the Youtube rabbit whole of all these meditations and I think that that’s how I’ve found the different types of meditations.
What have you found the most effective?
I think when really powerful words come into my mind, or that really resonate with me, or if I don't just go to the simple words that I know I could go to; If I try to explore deeper I feel like words can be so powerful and helpful that when I'm exploring new words, and am breathing with words, I just fully notice a difference in how my body feels. It's crazy to me that it can affect you like that. So I really think that’s the most helpful and powerful thing. Focusing on words that have an effect on you and then you’ll see such a stronger difference after you’re done meditating.
How have the methods you've mentioned impacted your Performance Anxiety?
When I compare my first contract, that cruise contract where I was full of anxiety, to A Chorus Line, there was just such a big difference. I was not happy on my first contract. I was not having a good time and it made me not love performing which I thought I loved so much, but I just dreaded it because of the way I felt. With A Chorus Line, because I was able to figure myself out I fully enjoyed the whole contract. It felt easy and I also felt like I was able to be more mindful about my experiences and take in the positives. It's very weird when I think about the cruise contract. I can’t really remember a lot of details from the shows, or what it felt like to be on stage. I think because I was in such a panic ridden state. But with A Chorus Line, I can remember back and think about certain scenes and certain numbers and what it was like backstage before I went on, because I was just calmer and was able to take everything in. All in all it was just such a positive experience because I was happy and I was in control of my emotions and how my body would react to things.
Would you recommend these methods?
Yes, definitely and I have totally shared them with my friends who are anxiety ridden. I just think all in all it helps you enjoy things more and I think at the end of the day that’s why any of us choose this career, because we love it. It becomes not worth it if you’re not loving it anymore. If you can change the reason why you’re not loving it, then why not.
If you could offer a piece of advice about Performance Anxiety or one of the methods you mentioned, what would it be?
Research as much as you can about different ways to use meditation and to use mindfulness, and experiment with what works for you, because everyone is different, and everyone responds to everything differently. So take it into your own hands and do some research, and just experiment using different methods. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Make sure you tune in next week for the last entry of the Performance Anxiety Series! Questions, comments, need advice? Feel free to contact me by email at email@example.com or on instagram, @mindoverpractice .
Have a productive week of positive practicing!