Performance Anxiety comes up whenever we stand in front of others. Sometimes we perceive these feelings as excitement but all to often the developing performer perceives these feelings as cause for loss of control and heightened tension. With the fight or flight response releasing stress hormones into our bloodstream, its intention is to increase activation to prepare us for a challenge but unfortunately, not many performances require this degree of activation. This can often leave the developing performer feeling increasingly uncomfortable and anxious. 

Mother Nature’s Antidote

Mother Nature however has given us an antidote to this stress release in the form of another hormone called oxytocin.  Oxytocin is released in large doses when we first fall in love or give birth to a baby. It is this hormone that gives us a warm feeling that helps us to see the world through rose coloured glasses, to be full of hope facilitating the important bond with our new partner or baby. This hormone release is known as the Tend and Befriend Response and actually neutralises stress hormones in our system.

With some understanding the Tend and Befriend response can be used as a fabulous tool to assist developing performing artists to maintain a stable activation level for strong performance. 

So how can oxytocin be triggered without falling in love or childbirth? Fortunately it is released in varying amounts in a wide range of circumstances that facilitate bonding such as:

  • When we share a joke with someone
  • Hugging someone – you don’t even have to like them
  • Smiling with someone
  • Texting a friend
  • Talking to someone you love either on the phone or face to face
  • Looking at pictures of cute fluffy baby animals
  • Taking care of someone more vulnerable that you
  • Feeling part of and supported by a team of others

Ways in which these triggers can be implemented into performance

There are a host of ways we can create circumstances to trigger the tend and befriend response which is why I’m not going to go through all them. One of the most basic that has evolved in theatre is the giving of notes and flowers prior to opening night but let’s move away from this performance context.

Photo Galleries of Cute Fluffy Baby Animals

Either downloaded onto an individuals phone or as posters in pre-performance spaces, perhaps with quotes of reassurance and ability.

Have a supply of Jokes on hand

Leaving a book of jokes on the table in a pre-performance area for students to pick up and make each other laugh if they would like to

Arrange a communal space

Encourage a communal space where students can connect with one another prior to performance as well as spaces for others to grab time alone. Ensure the space has sufficient room for students to warm up and prepare whilst connecting and encouraging each other.

Students who are alone

Students who may be alone prior to a big audition or performance, encourage them to set up a phone call or engage in text messages with someone they care about and who cares about them prior to their performance. I have had a number of students use me for this purpose over the years but often it has been a best friend or parent

Have an Encouragement Wall

Facilitate students’ tending to others by creating a communal wall backstage where students can write post it notes to other performers

Performing in front of the class or ensemble? 

Set up a culture of support and togetherness in your pre-performance activities. Encourage students to share anxious moments in their upcoming performance and invite their classmates to cheer them through difficult sections with non-verbal encouraging behaviours. Performance in front of the class is normalising but it can also be intimidating and it is amazing the change that can occur and the learning that can be gained when everyone is invested in improving the performance of other students. 

I remember a situation a few years ago with two developing singers, when one outgoing actor started workshopping her performances with an outstanding musician. They improved the other’s performances exponentially. The actor offering detailed feedback to the musician on how to convey the emotions and context of her performances more strongly whilst the musician gave the actress feedback on musical style, phrasing and interpretative qualities to inject sophistication into the actor’s performances. Both students were winners in this arrangement and both were successful applicants for tertiary study in performance institutions. 

In short, the tend and befriend response is an often untapped resource that can be tweaked and moulded to most performance situations to improve control of stress hormone activation and improve performance outcomes for our students. I look forward to hearing how you are working with it in your performance spaces. 

 

 
Evetts, C. (2017). Fight or Flight Versus Tend and Befriend Behavioral Response to Stress. The American journal of occupational therapy, 71(4_Supplement_1), 7111505083-7111505083p7111505081. doi:10.5014/ajot.2017.71S1-PO1127
Taylor, S. E., Klein, L. C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. (2000). Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: Tend-and-befriend, not fightor-flight. Psychological Review, 411-429. 

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