Managing anxiety and building confidence through performance.
26 Mar 15
by Tatyana Dobrowolski, MTA
In my work with at risk youth I have used performing as a tool to help manage anxiety and increase confidence in these youth. It has worked really well and has surprised the students, teachers and even myself at times. The programs I run give the students different opportunities to perform with different levels of risk. These opportunities give the students options that match their current level of confidence and give them goals to work towards. I have seen students grow a lot through these performances and I believe that the rush of performing plays a large part as well as the positive feedback from their peers.
The students have opportunities for performing in one to one sessions with me, and when they are ready they are put into a group where they have the chance to perform in front of their peers. In both of these scenarios the risk is quite low because they are making music with other people and so even when they sing solos it is still part of the group performance. It is rewarding for them as they get instant feedback and encouragement from both the instructor and their peers.
In these groups we also make youtube videos. This kind of performance is abstract, as they do not get to experience an audience. Even so, many students still get nervous at the idea of recording a performance, but there seems to be a sense of pride afterwards from creating something with their classmates. They feel good when they can see that they have performed well. The videos give the students proof of their abilities and can enable them to give themselves the confidence boost they need.
There is also opportunity for them to perform in a more formal setting. We have a weekly open mic group that runs after school and an annual performance at the end of the year. These performances are met with much higher levels of anxiety but also have a bigger reward. The students seem to feel more vulnerable because there are more people watching them and they are often performing alone. The pay off is the rush they feel from performing and the reaction they get from the audience. I have seen students mess up in these performances and because of the encouragement from the other students they have gone back up and tried again. When they go up again they are more successful and have an even better positive response.
All forms of performance can trigger some anxious feelings but when the students are done and get a warm response from the audience they learn that these feelings are temporary and can be worth fighting through. Many people with anxiety disorders stay away from anything that can feel similar to an anxiety attack and so they are often held back from doing things they might enjoy. These performances give the students opportunities to experience these feelings in a safe environment. It helps them learn that not every nervous feeling is bad and they can often lead to wonderful experiences. When they manage to fight through that discomfort the boost in self esteem is wonderful to witness.