So, we have yet another performance coming up, and we’re feeling scared/anxious, dreading the occasion, would rather run away thank you very much; but why? The negative anticipation builds and, come the performance, the flight/flight response has well and truly kicked in; we’re shaky, heart’s racing, palms are sweating, it’s hard to think, breathing is fast and shallow - just plain sick to the very core, feeling like we’re going to die.

At a logical level we know we can play/sing/act/present (whatever it is we do), we’ve done it many times, got the Oscars and accolades to prove it, and typically, have the luxury of being surrounded by loved ones and fans who seem only too ready to voice their approval and appreciation of what we do. But, if we suffer from performance anxiety, all the awards in the world and all the confidence of others typically fall on deaf ears - our deaf ears. Again, why? We’ll come to this in a minute.

Fear of performing can be generated by all sorts of factors, some that seem to have nothing to do with performing itself; domestic crises, financial pressures, health concerns, competition from others. But, there are two main triggers - a traumatic event (or series of smaller uncomfortable occasions) such as a perceived poor performance, slating reviews etc, and beliefs about ourselves and our ability or, rather, inability to perform.

So, a traumatic event is quite easy to grasp in terms of its detrimental effect on how we view our future performances. When something happens that truly shocks us, we learn from the experience immediately; it’s an evolutionary thing. We instantly learn that, whatever the situation was, is a danger to our comfort and sense of security, to be avoided in the future at all costs/certainly not to be repeated. That message becomes lodged in our minds and acts as a template for how to gauge all future performance situations. Performing is a threat to be feared.

But, even with endless flawless performances under our belts, we can fear performing.
Our anticipation of performing is based on how we feel/our emotional state (anxiety); how we feel, is based on what we’re thinking (I can’t stand this). And, what we’re thinking is fuelled by what we believe (I’m a fraud). This is the critical path.

So, to understand this more clearly, let’s just go back a bit. Vital to understand is that much of our behaviour is automatically driven by pre-set programmes or core beliefs (programmes that have become established over time predominantly through the experiences we have); it’s not conscious, rational nor analytical. We’re not aware of deliberately making ourselves anxious. In fact, we’d love it if the scary thoughts would just bog off. But they don’t, they persist; and they become our ‘truth’.

Some of these core beliefs or automatic programmes are really useful to us, but some, such as those relating to performance anxiety are, clearly, detrimental. Beliefs such as “I can’t”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a fraud” will, inevitably lead to thoughts that lead to self-deprecating and catastrophizing conclusions. It is these thoughts that then lead to the performance anxiety.

So, where does hypnotherapy come into this? Hypnotherapy aims to directly access this automatic part of the mind, to de-sensitise past traumatic memories, and re-programme unhelpful, detrimental core beliefs.

So why hypnotherapy? Why aren’t endless re-assurances enough to generate a sense of confidence in us as performers?

To answer this requires an understanding of three things.

First, the human mind is the sum of two parts, the conscious and the unconscious. These automatic programmes are housed at the unconscious level. But, unfortunately, the unconscious mind is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Once these programmes have been established, the unconscious mind accepts them as reality whether or not all aspects are accurate or beneficial to us.

Secondly, the conscious mind then acts as a filter system, allowing only information that is consistent with our programmes to pass through to the unconscious mind, thus perpetuating and reinforcing our notions of what we’re capable of. So, going back, endless reassurances to a person suffering with performance anxiety are likely simply to be dismissed as the ravings of a well-intentioned lunatic.

But, and this is the third point, these programmes develop over time; they are not set in stone nor are they fact, so, they can be changed.

For change to take place, this filter system – the conscious mind - needs to be temporarily switched off or by-passed. And this is achieved via hypnosis – relaxation of the physical body and conscious mind.

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