On March 3, Nancy Worsham, a trained clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Gonzaga, spoke via Zoom on “Understanding and Overcoming Performance Anxiety” for the second Spring Colloquium of the semester.
The colloquium was specifically for performing arts majors at GU. Students with majors such as music performance, general music and music education were invited to attend. However, music minors, as well as students and faculty from other departments, were present as well.
The event was run by Timothy Westerhaus, associate professor of Music. Westerhaus introduced the seminar and the guest speaker, Nancy Worsham.
“It is my delight to welcome you to a gathering that I hope invites a spirit of mindfulness, a spirit of centeredness, a spirit of engaging with curiosity and kindness towards ourselves with regards to anxiety,” Westerhaus said.
A theme of compassion and mindfulness ran through Worsham’s speech, titled “Being Present with Music and Our Lives”.
Performance anxiety is something that college students experience often. Whether that be with giving a speech or a musical performance, Worsham aimed to give students productive ways to respond to their stress.
Worsham articulated the idea of befriending one’s stress instead of pushing it aside. When one is stressed, they should treat themselves with the same compassion they would give a friend.
“There are a couple strategies where you can start to change your relationship to the experience. Maybe you can’t make anxiety go away, but you can be with it or you can befriend it,” Worsham said.
Another strategy that Worsham recommended students should use to combat performance anxiety is labeling. Labeling one’s anxiety and recognizing that it is occurring is the first step to being able to combat it according to Worsham.
A sense of community could be felt throughout this Zoom call as students and other faculty members spoke up, or sent chats, to share their experiences and thoughts on performance anxiety.
“It is important to face performance anxiety instead of ignoring it and wishing that it didn't happen. This [event] helped me learn some techniques to deal with performance anxiety that I can use the next time that I play a solo,” sophomore Sara Clark said in an email.
Worsham stressed that anxiety is something that is experienced by everyone. It does not make a person weak nor should people be ashamed to feel it.
“I just want to normalize it,” Worsham said. “To have a certain degree of anxiety is not in and of itself problematic. That’s very normal.”
Henry Mauser, a senior at GU, performed a Beethoven movement on the piano. During this time, Westerhaus invited students to reflect on their experiences and the words shared by Worsham.
The audience was invited to give themselves compassion and utilize mindfulness during this difficult time, but more specifically when they are experiencing performance anxiety.
Worsham shared a slide that explained how the audience should think about mindfulness, it read: “Awareness that arises, from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
Worsham shared a key to mindfulness; to hold one’s thoughts more lightly. She showed a slide that read: “We don’t want to stop our thoughts but to change our relationship with them”.
This seminar did not focus on ridding the world of anxiety, but instead on finding ways and learning strategies to recognize and manage anxiety when it is felt.
“Once we have language, we start labeling everything, but we start to change our relationship to our thoughts,” Worsham said. “That is why I invite you, when you are having performance anxiety or you’re stressed out, to just notice what is going on, tend to what is going on in your mind.”