Fast Track Your Stress Reduction

Stress Isn’t Unique

The stress of performing – getting it right, right now – isn’t unique to musicians.  Many fields of achievement create performance stress.  Track athletes get one try for the trophy, and every footstep has to fall into the right place with the right rhythm.  An ambulance team has minutes to arrive, and maybe only seconds to apply emergency treatment to bring a patient back from the brink.  Commandos have limited time for the mission and anything that goes wrong has to be improvised under threat of death.

All kinds of performance stress have the same physiology.  The same regions of your brain and the same glands are activated whether your stress is real or imaginary.  Your body gears up to freeze in place, flee, or fight regardless of the cause.  The good news is that we can overcome those stresses with practice.  That’s why firefighters practice with real fires and commandos practice with live ammunition.  The stresses still exist, but they harness the extra energy to heighten their senses, achieve greater focus, and perform their best instead of their worst.  There’s even better news: there’s a way to fast-track this practice.  Since all performance stresses work on our bodies and brains the same way, they are equivalent.  That is, learning to cope with one set of stresses makes it easier to cope with a different set of stresses.  Handling stress is a transferable skill.

The Fast Track: Public Speaking

Public speaking is one way to fast-track your stress reduction.  As a speaker, you experience many of the same stresses you do as a musician:

  • Ÿ Standing on the stage alone, with every eye fixed on you
  • Ÿ Delivering content from memory while also managing technical details, thoughts, feelings, your body, voice,  and anxiety
  • Ÿ Only one chance at each moment.  A wrong word, a pause that is too long or too short, or any other flaw cannot be undone.
  • Ÿ Accepting applause and meeting the audience
  • Ÿ Opportunity to interpret or improvise on a theme

However, preparation time for a speech is hours or days, instead of weeks or months.  This means that for the same amount of preparation time, you can get more practice handling stress.  Just think: by walking to the podium and asking the meeting to come to order you get the same benefit as you would by practicing for days, setting up a recital, and performing your piece – in a fraction of the time.

Create Stress Controlling Habits

In India, people wear clothing dyed in brilliant colors.  Yet until recently, these colors were all made with vegetable dyes that fade in the sun.  So, how could the colors remain brilliant?  The method is to dye the fabric in the color and leave it in the sun.  Most of the color fades, but some remains.  The fabric is then dyed again, left in the sun, with even more color remaining.  After multiple treatments, the remaining colors cannot fade – they are brilliant and permanent.

Likewise, these briefer experiences with stress, when repeated, help you develop habits for controlling stress.  They help you make the most out of the longer speech experiences, when you have to control stress for a longer period of time.  And they’ll help you prepare for your musical performances and the stresses they cause.  Of course, you can get the same experiences by jumping out of an airplane (don’t’ forget the parachute!), athletic competition, or any other situation that creates the same stress of having one chance to get it right.

Everyone Needs Communication Skills

But public speaking has one more benefit: it’s practical!  Your music performance career will be helped along with these public speaking and communication skills:

  • Ÿ Announcing your music
  • Ÿ Written and oral program notes
  • Ÿ Lecturing
  • Ÿ Directions to the audience in an emergency
  •  Teaching
  • Ÿ Writing letters and emails
  • Ÿ Blogging
  • Ÿ Advertising and web site text

Unless you’re going to parachute or high-jump onto the stage, the public speaking approach will be far more useful.

This Fast Track Works

Does this work?  I can say from my experience that it does.  When I gave my first speech at my Toastmasters club I was quite nervous.  My hands were shaking, my voice was shaking, and my memory of what I was going to say next was shaky.  As I gave more speeches, I learned how to control the fear by proper breathing, moving around to burn up the stress-caused hormones, and many other methods.  I’ve discovered that these techniques work when I perform music, too.  Proper breathing, moving around, and those same other methods control my nervousness on the organ bench.  Unlike my first day on the job, my hands and feet no longer shake, and there’s no question when the introduction has ended and it’s time for the choir to sing.

So don’t die in front of your audience.  Instead, dye yourself with habits that don’t fade under stress.  Will you join a Toastmasters club, or find some other way to fast-track your stress reduction?  We’d all love to hear what works for you.

Dennis Olsen

P.S.:  If you’d like to learn more about Toastmasters, visit  To find a club near you (in over 100 countries) click on “Find a Club” in the upper left corner.

One thought on “Fast Track Your Stress Reduction

  1. I’m glad you’re finding it helpful. It takes a lot of time to find, prove, and write up this information. I do it so you won’t have to go through it again. Enjoy!

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