Learning to cope with performance anxiety takes a lot of thought, time and, in my experience, reading and research! I love to hear about different ways people manage it or prevent it and it motivates me to know that people are talking about it more and more. I have developed my own technique that helps me deal with a side of the anxiety that is most debilitating during a performance, this is intrusive thoughts.
Often when performing, especially from memory, my inner voice dictates negative thoughts, attempting to throw me off course. Thoughts such as ‘you’re going to mess up this next bit’ or ‘That sounded awful’ or ‘You can’t remember the next few bars’ or ‘don’t mess up, don’t mess up’ that take my attention away from the music and enjoyment and force me to try and control the thoughts.
If these thoughts are pursued, they often succeed in what they foretell, but this doesn’t have to be the case and their severity can actually be lowered by embracing them. A great way to lessen the severity and fear of these thoughts is to ‘practice’ thinking them. Now, this probably sounds absurd, but if in your practice you write down all the negative and stressful thoughts you have experienced whilst performing and put them on your stand in front of you on on the wall, you start playing and ‘think’ the thoughts deliberately. You realize that nothing bad happens and often they have very little effect on your playing in this context. If this is practiced frequently, when the thoughts arise in a performance, your brain won’t be distracted by them and the unpredictability of your brain shouldn’t adversely affect your performance.
Of course there are various ways in which performance anxiety can affect you and what I encourage most is exploring and developing methods yourself in order to train your confused brain to be a help rather than a hindrance.