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Chronic Stage Anxiety Re-Examined: An Integrative Approach for the Twenty-First Century


Stage anxiety has existed as long as humans have performed for one another. The fifteen self-help books surveyed for this study contain a wealth of practical on-site tips and strategies,most centered around the time of the performance. But for the upwards of fifty percent of stage anxiety sufferers for whom this condition is chronic, these books offer little relief.

Chapter 1 frames the discussion of stage anxiety around personality development, which enables a more comprehensive definition of stage anxiety while also introducing the concept of emotional memory.

Chapter 2 links the learned suppression and control of emotions to the detailed scheme of personal psychosocial evolution proposed by the German-born developmental psychologist Erik Erikson.This sets the stage for a discussion in

Chapter 3 of a dozen current therapies used by the medical community to treat anxiety disorders, ranging from Alexander Technique to Cognitive Therapy (CT). To these I add the only current anxiety therapy that actually looks into a patient's background--the eighteen schemas identified in the 1990s by Dr. Jeffrey Young. I argue that the "characterological" issues addressed by Dr. Young have a powerful connection (one that Young does not make) to stage anxiety. Emotional deprivation, fear of abandonment, defensiveness, vulnerability, etc. are all certain to accompany every affected performer onto the stage.

Chapter 4--the heart of the thesis--synthesizes the many scientific advances over the last forty years in our understanding of how anxiety works at the brain, neurological, and even cellular levels. Current science teaches us that the "information" in a memory is stored right along with the "emotion" associated with that memory. Whenever a particular memory is triggered, our entire body "remembers" both the emotion and the information virtually seamlessly. This is why on-site interventions have little chance of succeeding.

Chapter 5 describes the circumstances of my growing up first in the old Soviet system of music education, and then being switched abruptly in my mid-adolescence to the post-1989. Russia in which self-preservation was often conflated with naked self-interest. When I traveled to America the traumas I experienced in these two worlds boarded the plane with me. I conclude the chapter with a detailed account of the potential land mines in a sample piano recital program.

The Epilogue offers the broad outlines of an original treatment program that has the real potential of helping chronic sufferers gradually replace chronic fear of stage performance with enduring joy.

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