We’ve all felt something akin to performance anxiety, whether it be while waiting in the wings to go on stage or something on a smaller scale such as while preparing for a job interview or difficult phone call.
In a situation of extreme anxiety, the body’s response can be largely unhelpful – shaking, mental confusion, ‘clamming up’ can all serve only to reinforce the belief that we will fail at the task at hand by sabotaging our ability to perform at our best.
In an effort to provide advice and training that could benefit people who suffer with performance anxiety, researchers have investigated the effects of a slow-breathing technique on the physical manifestations of such anxiety.
The study employed a breathing technique that establishes a slower breathing frequency sufficient to dampen certain nervous reflexes. Such a technique has previously been associated with improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, state anxiety and cardiovascular disease.
The results of the study – which involved 46 trained musicians – revealed that a single session of a slow-breathing technique known to help control the physical and emotional responses to anxiety, in this case, a highly stressful musical performance.
Participants who had high baseline anxiety and received the intervention experienced greater reductions in self-reported anxiety compared with those in the control condition.
The results suggest that a single session of slow breathing is sufficient for controlling physiological arousal in anticipation of psychosocial stress such as during a musical performance, and may be particularly helpful for those with high baseline levels of anxiety.