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Mindfulness Therapy As A Treatment For Performance Anxiety

Mindfulness Therapy As A Treatment For Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety is something that most performers experience at some point in their performance careers. Performance anxiety is not a disorder listed in the DSM-IV; however it is often referred to as a component of either social anxiety disorder or social phobia. The main difference between social phobias and social anxiety disorder is that the affected persons become anxious when they think about what other people think of them in public, or they may even become generally anxious when they are in any social situation. These people often do not think very highly of themselves and they avoid the activities that they fear (Powell, 2004).

In performance anxiety, afflicted people have higher self-esteem and only become anxious under specific circumstances. Although people affected by performance anxiety may be deathly afraid of their respective feared activities, they still continue to try to better themselves in that area. For instance, an instrumentalist who becomes very anxious when she has to perform in front of a group of people will not automatically give up on her instrument. She will instead continue to practice and improve but only feel anxiety under performance conditions (Powell, 2004).

Performance anxiety has not been studied extensively and therefore its prevalence is not clear. It can be assumed, however, that about two percent of the population has experienced some form of debilitating performance anxiety. The difference between debilitating performance anxiety and performance anxiety is that debilitating performance anxiety occurs when a person experiences levels of anxiety that are so extreme that the levels of anxiety are no longer normal or the levels of anxiety present no longer facilitate better performances (Powell, 2004).

Performance anxiety can happen in a variety of different situations. These include test taking, public speaking, sports, dancing, acting and music performance. Despite all of these various situations in which performance anxiety can occur, most of the symptoms overlap between the situations. For example, test taking performance anxiety looks very similar to dancing performance anxiety somatically (Kenny, D., 2005).

The prevalence rate of music performance anxiety, the primary focus of this study, has not been researched much in the literature either. One study found that about sixteen percent of professional orchestral musicians had a serious problem with performance anxiety (Fishbein, Middlestadt, Ottati, Straus, & Ellis, 1988). As mentioned before, however, it is safe to assume that at least two percent of musicians have problems with performance anxiety (Powell, 2004).

Performance anxiety is often associated with worry about one’s own performance as compared to other performer’s performances, preoccupation with feelings of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem, and increased bodily arousal (Kendrick, Craig, Lawson, & Davidson, 1982). These factors lead to ruminating in negative thoughts about one’s performance ability and increased anxiety levels about performing. People who experience music performance anxiety are often perfectionists who catastrophize when thinking about future performances (McGinnis & Milling, 2005). One study found a strong correlation between catastrophic thinking and performance anxiety levels. Similarly, there was a relatively strong negative relationship between positive thinking and performance anxiety levels (Steptoe & Fidler, 1987). Another study found that there was a strong positive relationship between perfectionism and increased dysfunctional thinking about performances (Yondem, 2007). These types of negative thought processes are often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (McGinnis & Milling, 2005).

The literature supports the belief that CBT would be efficacious in treating music performance anxiety. One study found that CBT was able to reduce negative thought patterns associated with performance in pianists from the Vancouver area in order to make these performances improve in quality and become more comfortable situations for the performers (Kendrick et al., 1982). Another case study demonstrates the effectiveness of cognitive desensitization in which the participant’s anxiety levels decreased after going through a gradual process of imagined and in vivo exposure to performance situations (Fogle, 1982).

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Another treatment type that has been proven to alleviate anxiety is mindfulness-based therapy. The research literature, however, is not very comprehensive as far as clinical trials specifically related to anxiety disorders go (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010). Meditation, a component of mindfulness-based therapy, has been proven efficacious in reducing stress (Goleman & Schwartz, 1976) and cue-controlled relaxation techniques, such as muscle relaxation techniques, have been proved to be more effective than the standard music analysis technique often used to alleviate anxiety in music students (Sweeney & Horan, 1982). Another mindfulness-based therapy component, yoga, has also been proven effective in treating performance anxiety in music students. The yoga treatment reduced both cognitive and somatic symptoms of music performance anxiety through use of meditation and controlled breathing techniques (Khalsa, Shorter, Cope, Wyshak, & Sklar, 2009).

The effectiveness of both of these treatment types in previous anxiety studies has warranted a closer look at their effectiveness in treating music performance anxiety specifically. This study is designed to examine the effectiveness



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