The body is an amazing system of energy. Our psychology plays a significant role in how our body reacts.
“if we believe we are under stress, we manifest stress in our physiology” - Dr Bruce H Lipton.
All of us understand how stress or negativity feels – Our heart rate increases, muscles tighten, increase in saliva, sweat and so on. One of the major problems for a singer under stress is how the throat tightens, thus losing range, support, tone and varying other undesirable symptoms. These physical signs are a product of the brain sending fright flight signals from the amygdala and are totally opposed to optimum vocal set up.
Much of the text I’ve read concerning anxiety in singers relates to “performance anxiety” ie “greater scale outcome” like singing publicly, public speaking etc. I like to focus on positive “small scale outcome” lighting up the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (responsible for confidence) as I believe that if we can get this right the overall outcome can bring out permanent positive change. Examples would be – a student discovers a new but unrefined part of their voice in a lesson, or they realise they can now sing that song they have been wanting to sing or they feel a release of tension in their voice after relaxing their tongue and jaw. Small but significant improvements. If the goals set by the teacher or perhaps more importantly the student, are too high for the individual there is every chance that the part of the brain that is connected with fear (the amygdala) kicks in. The outcome is likely to be bad posture, tight throat, and inhibited breath which all work against the voice.
The key to progress is that we acknowledge improvement, be it small or large. Keep in the present, keep your self talk positive, use positive affirmations. Don’t get caught up in pursuit of big, perfect or unattainable goals as they will fill you with anxiety. A good teacher will set realistic expectations during a lesson according to the students experience, health, psychology and physiology. If this is done it gives the opportunity for the small scale wins to take place and the steady gradual growth of confidence.
When you start to appreciate and acknowledge your improvements (even if they don’t initially match up to your long term expectations) you are actually changing your bodies response to new vocal challenges making crucial steps towards your ultimate goals. Keep positive, keep realistic and make certain you are dimming your amygdala and lighting up your prefrontal cortex as much as possible!