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Anxiety, Depression, and Stage Fright, Oh My! 

by Lindsay Hansen Brown


John Michael Weinstein, M.D., Susan Mayer, L.M.T., Sandra Cox, and Kristen Gygi—all members of the NFA’s Performance Health Care Committee—gave an overview of the reasons musicians need to be aware of anxiety and depression. Cox opened the panel, beginning with the facts that depression is very common and, if left untreated, can manifest in a number of ways. Music teachers, she noted, need to watch out for signs of anxiety and depression in themselves and in their students.

Weinstein provided tips for lessening anxiety and stage fright on performance days, including visualizing success, breathing slowly, avoiding caffeine, meditating, and practicing the music. He advised the audience to master performance anxiety so it’s not crippling and instead works in your favor. 

Gygi spoke of the inner vs. outer world. She said fear is in the inner world, but people try to solve it in the outer world. Having worked with individuals with PTSD, she explained that musicians also have a form of PTSD and need to identify how they have been conditioned. Bodies do not distinguish between real and imagined threats, and trauma may be resolved. She led the audience through a positive thinking exercise (I love flute, music makes me happy) to demonstrate the power of positivity.

Mayer, a yoga instructor and massage therapist, talked about working with her clients. She noted that if grief or trauma is not addressed, it will show up as a physical condition and manifest as depression and anxiety. She practices neuromuscular therapy and, when working with musicians, takes 360-degree videos of them playing both easy and difficult music to see where they might be carrying stress. After the treatment, she takes another video, and they work on breathing techniques. She demonstrated how to breathe calmly: Members of the audience placed their hands on side ribs and breathed slowly to experience the calming effects. 

The presenters encouraged attendees to visit the Performance Health Care Committee’s booth in the exhibit hall for more information.