Stage fright or performance anxiety is the persistent fear of speaking or performing in front of an audience or a camera. Fear of public speaking is called glossophobia. It is one of the most common phobias, beating out fear of heights, insects, financial problems, deep water, illness and even death. The idea of getting up and speaking in front of a group of people can scare even the most confident person into a cold sweat. Stage fright can be a part of a larger social phobia or social anxiety disorder or it can be an isolated condition. Sometimes people experience stage fright just anticipating a performance. People have described symptoms such as heart pounding, hand or leg tremors, sweaty hands, diarrhea, facial nerve tics, dry mouth, and erectile dysfunction.
Elena Beloff is a Certified Clinical Hypnotist and Master NLP Practitioner and a filmmaker. She is writing a book and directing a documentary about hypnosis. She hopes to educate people about its uses and to dispel myths and stereotypes that people associate with hypnosis. She was very interested in combatting stage freight through hypnosis and has worked with performers of all levels and in many different performance disciplines such as actors, musicians and corporate speakers. “I found that this problem has the most absurd limiting beliefs lingering in one’s unconscious mind which stop performers from enjoying their craft,” she told me during a recent series of interviews.
The New York City-based hypnotist explained that performers often feel that the audience is not on their side. “If someone believes on a very deep level that he or she is not that good and that the audience is waiting for them to fail, they will feel stale, anxious and not be able to enjoy themselves or their performance.” These beliefs act on sufferers the same way as most people react to anxiety. They become self-conscious. It blocks their enthusiasm, distracts them and can make performers forget or be afraid that they will blank out on words no matter how hard they’ve rehearsed. “Imagine yourself walking at night in the dark alley in a very dangerous neighborhood. Will you act all happy and walk slow? Will you enjoy yourself? Of course not. You will walk fast. You will be a little nervous and careful. You become quiet. You know that there is danger and your instinct is to protect yourself. The same thing happens with a performer. No matter how ridiculous it may sound, a lot of performers with stage fright believe that the audience is their enemy.”
Beloff says her first objective was to identify the fears that her clients hold but can’t say out loud. “Sometimes they are so irrational that the client is embarrassed to even pronounce them. I make sure they feel comfortable, that they do not feel judged and that they know I am on their side.” She wants them to feel comfortable sharing what they believe. After she identifies the limiting beliefs, “which I like to call thought viruses, I work on reframing them into positive beliefs. For example, if someone believes `The audience is judging me. I am not a good performer. My hand will shake.’ I would reframe these beliefs into `The audience will accept me. I am a great performer. My hands are steady.’ I design powerful and positive scripts based on their personal issues and the nature of their performance anxiety.”
Once she compiles that script, she moves to her favorite part of the therapy, the induction into the trance state. While in the suggestible state she reads the personalized script to them a few times so that the new beliefs become instilled in their unconscious mind and the positive ideas replace the limiting beliefs. “I also use a powerful visualization to help them see their successful performance so they understand and believe how easy and enjoyable it can be. They mentally rehearse this success many times in their mind. All of this enables them to believe only positive things about them as performers about the audience. It also strengthens their ego and self-esteem.”
Beloff approaches performers in different fields similarly, but uniquely. Whether it’s a standup comedian or a concert violinist, she finds that they process information or suggestions in very much the same way, but that in the end, every individual has their own needs. “I think every person is different. I don’t think the kind of profession you’re in makes you different with regards to how you process suggestions or how long it will take to hypnotize you. It really depends on the person and their unique character, their background and life experiences. Some people are easier to hypnotize, others it take a little longer. Some go deep into trance; others stay in a lighter state of hypnosis, like a heightened state of focus. There is no right or wrong, as long as have my clients’ direct attention to suggestions and that they follow my instructions word for word. That’s all I need. I can help them achieve their goal.”
People respond to different stimulus and rely on different senses more than others. People have auditory, visual, kinesthetic (touch), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) responses. Beloff treated a client who was afraid her hands would shake when she played the violin. Before every performance she would focus the negative thoughts. “She had been playing since childhood and one time she got nervous and her hand shook. So ever since then she anticipated that it would happen again and so it happened.” The violinist would focus on trying to stop the shaking while performing. Elena taught her how to shift focus from thinking about a shaking hand to the sound of music. “I detected she was auditory more than visual I taught her in hypnosis how to instantly shift focus to hearing the music she was playing, to experience the positive emotion of actually enjoying the sound of the music. She would create a sense of enjoyment and while listening, the shaking would go away because she couldn’t think about two things at the same time. She couldn’t hear music and at the same time think about her shaking hand. It had to be one or the other.”
Elena Beloff is no stranger to stage performance. “I sang in the choir for five years in Russia on a big stage and performed with Tony Sokol’s band. I took many acting classes and did a short stage performance from Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. I also spent a lot of time in front of the camera as an interviewer in my first documentary film.” Elena experienced her own stage fright “when I first started taking acting classes. I used to feel uncomfortable. But I easily overcame it with practice and self-hypnosis.”
Elena Beloff is available for sessions, for more information contact her at her site www.insidehypnosis.com.