Hm, why yes, you certainly can use beta blockers to help prevent performance anxiety, a.k.a. stage fright. Does that mean you should?
There seems to be a pill for everything. Why was I surprised, then, to learn today that people use beta blockers to calm their performance anxiety?
Beta Blockers for Stage Fright
Sometimes, what a pill is commonly used for was its originally-intended pharmaceutical purpose and sometimes it’s a by-product discovered from usage because of its side effects. For quite a few public speakers and performers, using beta blockers, which I’ll refer to as “BB” to save a few keystrokes, would be considered a very positive side-effect. It’s such an effective side effect that professional golfers are banned by the Pro Golfers Association from using them. Does it give an unfair advantage? The PGA thinks so. Is it healthy? Your body will tell you, at least in the short run.
The most commonly used BB is called Propranolol. It blocks or reduces the spike of adrenaline the brain produces when a fearful or stressful situation arises.
It will definitely calm your brain and lower your heart rate. Like Cinderella’s magic carriage, though, it has a time limit and wears off. Just like stomach stapling doesn’t change the lifestyle and mindset of the person who has that procedure, BB’s don’t solve the problem; they just reduce the symptoms of the problem. For a while.
You’ll always have to use another BB to achieve the same effect unless you’re also, simultaneously, working steadily to learn about your personal response to the stressful situation of presenting publicly. Also, you need to develop preventive and in-the-moment coping skills of mindfulness, breath control, and offloading adrenaline. If you don’t, you’ll have to keep taking the drug.
My personal m.o., admittedly, is to look for natural solutions before I take pharmaceuticals. Maybe that’s because I’ve seen first and secondhand the issues that arise from from over-usage of a pharmaceutical drug or drugs, whether short- or long-term. Maybe it’s because I think we’re overmedicated as a society. Maybe both. I’ll never tell… OK, I kind of just told, more or less.
For the purposes of using BB’s for beating stage fright, I’ll be straight-up and say I’m not a huge fan. That’s because I’m not a fan of the idea of taking a pharmaceutical to force your brain to suppress the “fight or flight” stimuli that is the root cause behind performance anxiety. That said, I’m not going to judge another adult’s decision to use a pharmaceutical for a purpose for which it wasn’t intended. I know people do it all the time for various reasons.
That said, I’m not against using it as a stop-gap while you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to understand your triggers and manage your responses, as I mentioned in passing above.
Some people suffer greatly from the fight-or-flight response to making public presentations and perhaps a BB is a good solution for them. I’m mainly against performers who don’t suffer greatly from performance anxiety turning to Rx simply because they don’t want to put the time into doing what it takes to be more mindful about and calm toward presenting. They’d rather just take a pill or their manager would rather them just take a pill.
As a singer, your body is your most important asset and it behooves you to care for it and hold it in the highest regard. In my opinion, that includes taking as few prescription and over-the-counter medications as you are able. It also includes attempting to develop a long-term approach to finding natural solutions to both prevent issues from arising and manage them if they do.
Let me say something again here, though, because some people are going to read into what I’ve written above that I’m against pharmaceuticals categorically, and I am not. Please reread the last couple of paragraphs. Don’t hear what I’m not saying.
I am against, however, going straight to BBs without first trying to gain some level of self-control over the stage-fright response. Or giving it a half-hearted attempt to gain some degree of mastery over it, but then giving up and saying it doesn’t work because it’s not instant. It takes an investment of time, learning, patience, practice,and sticking with it.
A Natural Quick-Fix
Most of us who suffer from stage fright do want quick relief, though. I’ll definitely concede that point. So, try this yogic breathing exercise. The diameter of the airway constrains the airflow to a moderate level and prevents you from rushing through the exercise. That reminds you to slow down.
A spike in heart rate is one of the symptoms of the adrenaline rush that comes during fight or flight response. When doing this breathing exercise, your mind has to focus on slowing down your heart rate and bodily responses to stressors, so that it can maintain that moderate breath flow. You can literally lower your heart rate quickly with this exercise. The more you practice it, the more quickly you train your brain and body to respond to the calmness and focus.
Do this exercise daily starting asap, so you can get used to it, and continue practicing it until you feel really comfortable with the process. Then, do it daily for the week leading up to your public appearance and as many times as you want or need on performance day. There’s no limit to how many times you can do each side, because it’s all natural. 😁🌻🏔💨