Stress is more than just an emotional reaction to stimuli. It also creates a physiological response. Singers put themselves in self-induced stress states on a regular basis. Auditions, masterclasses, performances, and even some rehearsals can trigger physiological changes in our bodies due to stress. For many of us, there is no choice in whether or not we pursue this career. It is a calling. However, we do have a choice when it comes to learning how calm our minds in spite of stressful situations.
Calm Your Brain
We have two amygdalae. They reside on each side of the brain behind the eyes and the optic nerves. The brain releases adrenaline and cortisol into your system, due to the amygdalae triggers, when a threat is perceived. These hormones are incredibly important when our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. The increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and dry mouth are all immediate physical actions that result. Unfortunately, the amygdalae, when activated in this way, shuts down the neural pathway to your prefrontal cortex. That is why you may feel slightly disoriented during these intense stress events.
Good Singer Breathing
Singers already have one giant defense against stress conditions and that is good singer breathing! We are already committed to low, silent breaths which stimulate the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It runs from the brain into the abdomen and is the major channel of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation—slowing the heart rate, facilitating digestion and generally calming the body. It counteracts the sympathetic nervous system, which rules the stress response—elevating heart rate, slowing digestion and sending blood to the muscles in preparation for fighting or fleeing. Unfortunately, modern life triggers the sympathetic nervous system much more than the parasympathetic. The all-too-frequent result of this imbalance is a body stuck in overdrive, triggering chronic inflammation, the precursor to numerous chronic diseases.¹
Stand Next to The River
Somewhere along the line, I picked up the notion that our emotions and feelings are a mighty, coursing river inside of our being. (I’m sure that this comes from some Zen or Buddhist teaching. But, I can’t seem to find the original source of it.) Experiencing intense emotions can be like standing in the middle of that dangerous river. If we continue to stay in the middle of the river, we are more likely to drown in the current. The way to de-escalate the situation is to stand next to that river of intense emotion and observe it. Some of the ways to exit the middle of the river are:
- Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts.
- Label the emotions that you are feeling.
- You are not your thoughts because you can distance your identity from the emotion. Can you practice changing your thoughts from “I am jealous” to “I am feeling jealous”?
- The intensity of the feelings begins to subside after labeling them so that you can start to observe them.
- Let Your Curiosity Run
- Now that you are observing your emotions, become more curious about them. Where does this emotion or feeling manifest in my body? How are my muscles or my breath holding on to this feeling?
Noticing, labeling, and dealing with emotional response helps us to settle our bodies into accepting the current situation for what it is instead of what we expected it to be. That allows us to get back into a clearer state of mind and make better decisions in the face of stress. Let the chill embody you, my little divas.
Show Your (Inner) Work + Free Calm-on-the-Go Infographic!
How do you handle stress in the moment? Do you have any favorite coping strategies? Make a list of things that help you stay calm. Or, create a calm-on-the-go kit that you can drop in your tote with your scores and character shoes. Need some inspiration? I made an infographic for you! If you like this Calm-0n-the-Go checklist, I hope you’ll take a moment and sign up for the Sybaritic Faithful email list for more helpful, exclusive content just like it.
I’d love to hear from you either in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter. I’m @mezzoihnen.
Let Me Be Your Diva Sidekick!
All this month I will be sending out exclusive content to the email list. Take a moment to sign up now so you can receive things like:
- Self-care for musicians
- Discovering your multiple intelligences
- Tackling your cognitive biases
- Vulnerability in life and on stage
- Blasting out of your thought ruts
I hope you’ll sign up here or just click the image above. Make sure to select the “Sybaritic Singer” option under “pick your news.”