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MUSIC & SPORTS PERFORMANCE 2018-02-05T03:57:57-07:00


One of the factors that may prevent a musician or an athlete from performing his or her best is when they have “performance blocks.” A performance block is when a person experiences severe stress and/or anxiety, which leads him/her to forget the steps to their performance or leads him/her to freeze while performing. In most cases, the performance block is a result of an emotional and physical trauma-like experience. Each performance block experienced has a cumulative effect and adds to the initial trauma-like experience, thus increasing the subsequent stress experienced by the person.[1] Whenever someone experiences a high level of stress or anxiety in a situation, they are more likely to avoid that situation. In turn, the musician or athlete may avoid going to practice and/or the people who are associated with these activities.

  • In 2013, an estimated 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years and older reported that they had a Mood and/or Anxiety Disorder.
  • Twenty-seven percent reported that their disorder/s affected their life and limited their activities (work, exercise or sports, social life, and travelling).
  • Twenty-three percent did not consult a health professional about their disorder/s.
  • Ninety-three percent are currently taking or have taken prescription medication/s for their disorder/s but only 20% have received psychological counselling to help them manage.
  • Avoidance of specific situations
  • Lack of action or inability to move
  • Indecision
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Ruminating about performance or ability
  • Stress
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • “It feels like my brain is stuck and I cannot think.”
  • “It is like my body will not move like I want it to.”
  • “I do not think I am ready. I do not think I have practiced enough.”
  • “What if I fail? What if I disappoint the people who have been supporting me? What if this means I am not good enough?”
  • Fatigue
  • Music tension
  • Loss of fine and/or gross motor control
  • Insomnia
  • Sweaty palms
  • Rising blood pressure
Anxiety and stress occur when the Autonomic Nervous System is activated. The amygdala is an area in the brain that is responsible for recognizing and reacting to this stress. Psychological stress increases the synthesis and release of cortisol and adrenaline and these hormones mobilize a person to be ready to react quickly to the situation (referred to as the “fight or flight” response). The hormones also increases a person’s arousal and vigilance levels, enhances focused attention, and helps to form memory.[4]

Yerkes and Dodson’s inverted-U theory[5]states that too little or too much stress negatively impacts people and leads to deterioration in performance. In other words, moderate levels of stress leads to a greater level of arousal and attention, which consequently leads to optimal performance.[5] People who have moderate stress levels experience a release of adrenaline and cortisol. However, too much stress leads to an over-activated amygdala and leads to a release of too much adrenaline and cortisol, which will inhibit optimal performance.[6]

  • Mindfulness Therapy (MT): Research shows that Mindfulness-Based Interventions are effective in reducing the severity of Anxiety symptoms,[7] Depression, and stress.[8]Reducing Anxiety and stress can help musicians and athletes overcome their performance blocks and even enhance their performance. MT helps to relax the mind and the body and thus enhances concentration, focus, and performance.
  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Research shows that CBT is an effective treatment for Anxiety Disorders.[9],[10] Through CBT, performance anxiety can be addressed by teaching individuals more effective coping skills and challenging irrational thoughts that affect their behaviour.
Here are a few relaxation techniques you can use to enhance performance and manage stress and anxiety during performances:

  • Use positive imagery: Research shows that the more you use imagery, the higher the level of sports performance. Imagery gives you motivation and improves stress.
  • Practice Meditation: Research also shows that the more that people meditate, the higher the level of performance.
  • Breathe: Research shows that a specific breathing technique improve the level of performance.
  • Listen to Calming Music: Calming Music can reduce oxygen metabolism, respiration, blood pressure, music tension, and negative thoughts.

Anxiety can hurt a performance and the career of a musician or an athlete. It hijacks a person’s mind and body, forcing him or her to “freeze.” The experience of anxiety during a performance or a competition can be traumatizing in and of itself. Musicians and athletes can avoid performance blocks and enhance their performance via relaxation techniques provided at Hopewell Psychological. Although relaxation techniques are important, it is important to also deal with the cause of the anxiety and stress so that the problem ceases to exist. Unfortunately, medications do not resolve the anxiety and stress issues and as soon as you stop taking the medications, the anxiety and stress symptoms return. That is why we also offer longer term treatments that are designed to deal with the root of the stress rather than just provide short term solutions. We tailor to your specific needs while offering you a supportive, trusting, non-judgmental, and collaborative setting in which we help you enhance your performance.

*Psychologists are covered under Insurance Companies in Canada. You will need to check with your insurance company about the specific details regarding your coverage.

[1] Bennet, Jenn; and Maynard, Ian. “Performance Blocks in Sport: Recommendations for Treatment and Implications for Sport Psychology Practitioners.” Journal of Sport Psychology in Action 8.1 (2017): 60-68. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21520704.2016.1227414.

[2] “Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Canada.” Government of Canada. 2015. Web. May 2017.

[3] Bali, Ashwani. “Psychological Factors Affecting Sports Performance.” International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health. 1.6 (2015): 92-95. http://www.kheljournal.com/archives/2015/vol1issue6/PartB/1-5-77.pdf.

[4] Sadock, Benjamin James, Sadock, Virginia Alcott, and Ruiz, Pedro. “Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry.” Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer. 2015. Print.

[5] McMorris, T., Hale, B. J., Corbett, J., Robertson, K., & Hodgson, C. I. “Does acute exercise affect the performance of whole-body, psychomotor skills in an inverted-U fashion? A meta-analytic investigation.” Physiology & Behavior. 141. (2015). Pp. 180-189. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.01.010

[6] Yu, R. “Choking under pressure: The neuropsychological mechanisms of incentive-induced performance decrements.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 9. 19. (2015). DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00019

[7] Strauss, Clara, Cavanagh, Kate, Oliver, Annie, and Pettman, Danelle. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for People Diagnosed with a current episode of an Anxiety or Depressive disorder: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” PLOS One. 9.4 (2014): E96110. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096110

[8] Khoury, Bassam, Lecomte, Tania, Fortin, Guillaume, Masse, Marjolaine, Therien, Phillip, Bouchard, Vanessa, Chapleau, Marie-Andree, Paquin, Karine, and Hofmann, Stefan G. “Mindfulness-Based Therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis.” Clinical Psychology Review. 33.6 (2013): 763-771. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2013.05.005.

[9] Bandelow, Borwin, Reitt, Markus, Rover, Christian, Michaelis, Sophie, Gorlich, Yvonne, and Wedekind, Dirk. “Efficacy of Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: A meta-analysis.” International Clinical Psychopharmacology 30.4 (2015): 183-192. DOI: 10.1097/YIC.0000000000000078.

[10] Watts, Sarah E., Turnell, Adrienne, Kladnitski, Natalie, Newby, Jill M., and Andrews, Gavin. “Treatment-as-usual (TAU) is anything but usual: A meta-analysis of CBT versus TAU for anxiety and depression.” Journal of Affective Disorders 175. (2015): 152-167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.025.

[11] Parnabaas, Vincent A., Mahamood, Yahaya, Parnabas, Julinamary, and Abdullah, Nagoor Meera. “The Relationship between Relaxation Techniques and Sports Performance.” Universal Journal of Psychology 2.3 (2014): 108-112. DOI: 10.13189/ujp.2014.020302

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