Performance Anxiety: A Word about Beta Blockers

piano-ology-performance-anxiety-a-word-about-beta-blockers-featured-photo-by-sharon-mccutcheon-on-unsplash Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Before continuing our exploration of the many cognitive-behavioral antidotes to stage fright, I feel compelled to share my perspective on the use of Beta-Blockers…

… sometimes considered the “dirty little secret” of professional musicians.

Let’s begin with a basic understanding of the fight or flight response:

Under threat, real or imagined, adrenaline pours into your blood stream, automatically activating a set of physiological reactions: increased heart rate, muscle tension, narrowed vision, etc. All these response once served the survival of our ancestors well in a very dangerous natural world.

When the stress of musical performance is viewed from this adaptive evolutionary perspective, it is not unreasonable to view adrenaline as a poison and beta-blockers (a class of drugs that inhibit the undesirable effects of adrenaline) as an antidote, but consider the following:

I once had the opportunity to use a beta-blocker in advance of a particularly exposed performance, but chose not to do so. My decision was based on the following: I wanted to face the stage fright monster “unprotected” because I wanted to discover the true limits of my capacities under pressure. And I am glad I did, because my experience gave me a new-found confidence that otherwise might have left me ignorant of both my limitations and powers… and possibly dependent on an unnecessary chemical crutch.

And so, in summary, having never tried beta-blockers, I suggest the following:

  1. If you are interested in learning more about Beta-Blockers, do your own research in reputable, peer-reviewed psychology and psychiatry journals.
  2. Before you even consider using any chemical assistants, first do the experiment of facing your fears “unprotected”, as I did above, in order to assess your capacities without them.
  3. Invest your time and energy in exploring the very simple, but powerful lessons that follow… things that anyone can start doing at home right this very minute without masking the symptoms, spending a nickel, or assuming any health risks.

learn more… Good Humor

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