Hello! My name is Camille and I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
After my diagnosis about a year ago, I started to look into the hows and whys of clinical anxiety. Here is a brief summary of what I've found so far:
This is just the very tip of the iceberg for research being done on clinical anxiety. Though all interesting, the most important thing to realize is this: even if you are not personally affected with an anxiety disorder, you almost certainly know someone who is.
This is why I have written down my Top 10 Tips for dealing with an anxiety disorder as a singer. To give a little bit of help to those who, like me, deal with anxiety on a daily basis, and also their colleagues/family/support system who wish to understand them a little better.
10 Tips to Help With Anxiety
in Audition or Performance
No. 10) Routine, Routine, Routine
There are few things that I've found more helpful than figuring out what routine works for me before an audition or show and - this is key - ACTUALLY DOING IT. This can be anything. Go running, watch Netflix, have a nap, go shopping, read a book, do origami, go over your music/stage directions (a good idea for everyone, tbh), take pictures of birds, plan your dream trip around the world, don't talk to anyone, talk to everyone, have a solo dance party in your apartment or hotel room. Anything!
If you haven't quite figured out the magic formula that works for you, I offer these simple questions to help get you there:
Write down your answers to these questions and from there you should have a clearer idea what your brain and body need to get through a gig. If not, that's OK! Just keep experimenting with different things and eventually you will figure out what works for you. This may also change over time, so always be aware of the signals your body is sending you. The most important thing is to be specific about your needs and to follow through with them.
No. 9) Do Your Research
This refers to anything that needs preparation, including hiring a pianist, checking out the best way to get from your hotel to the venue, researching the people in charge of your gig, and (if it's for an opera) knowing what the other characters are doing in your scenes. These are just a few examples. With any singing gig or audition there are a flobbity-jillion things to think about, and anxiety can make it feel simply overwhelming.
If you do your research and know what to expect, it lessens the need for your anxiety to kick into gear. That way, when unexpected complications arise (and they will), you won't already be overwhelmed by the things you could have prepared for.
No. 8) Bring Music to Listen To
This is one that I find particularly helpful. To be clear, this DOES NOT refer to recordings of your rep, but rather non-performance related music that you find calming. This could be any genre of music. Just think about what you really enjoy listening to that has nothing to do with your singing, bring it with you, and make sure your device is charged. As musicians we already understand the incredible psychological power that music holds, so we may as well make use of it!
No. 7) Self-care
Take time for yourself. That's it. Practice self-awareness and take however much time you need to feel grounded. Put it into your pre-gig routine and stick to it.
Your self-care activity must be quiet and calming, which is why it's separate from #1. I find breathing exercises to be helpful. Some people might want to take a bath, read, or do yoga. Meditation has enjoyed a burst of popularity lately, so below is a simple meditation exercise to follow.
If you find meditation to be a little daunting, here's a helpful video about its true ease and accessibility.
No. 6) Be Early
This one may seem obvious, but being late is one of the easiest ways to make your anxiety skyrocket. Being right on time is no better since it still doesn't leave you any time to settle. I find if I'm at the venue at least 15 minutes before I'm required to be there, the world is a nicer place. Keep in mind that if you need to change or do your makeup when you arrive this will add to your time. Give yourself 15 extra minutes of nothing to help center your mind and body.
No. 5) Have an Extra of Everything Important
This refers to items that would be difficult or impossible to quickly replace, like sheet music, your outfit and shoes, and your resume/bio/headshot. Always have several copies of your materials and at least one extra copy of your sheet music kept in a separate place (this may seem like a lot, but bags get stolen, stuff gets lost, and it's better to be prepared than without music). In addition, it's always a good idea to have copies online just in case (ie. Google Drive or Dropbox).
As for clothing and shoes, this depends on how much room you have left in your luggage or carry-on. Spills, rips, and broken heels happen, no matter how careful you are. I recommend bringing an extra of whatever you think are the most vulnerable parts of your outfit. In my opinion, for men that would be ties and dress shirts, and for women blouses, jewellery, and heels.
And as always, keep all important objects in your carry-on. Airlines are not to be trusted with luggage, especially for overseas travel.
No. 4) DO NOT PACK THE DAY OF
Just don't do it. Seriously. I don't think I need to explain why.
No. 3) Make Lists
One symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder is "difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind 'goes blank'" (link). This method may not work for everyone, but I've found it invaluable for keeping me on track. Making packing lists, travel info lists, contact lists, etc... will ensure that you're as prepared as possible, and thus help to minimize anxiety flare-ups.
No. 2) Breathe
This one goes with #7, but is so important that it needed its own category. Anxiety comes with a long list of physical "side-effects", but the one most detrimental to singers is its effect on breath. When anxiety is heightened, breathing can become rapid and shallow which lessens a singer's connection to their physical support system.
If you find this happening before you need to sing, sit down wherever you can (quiet space or not), close your eyes, and focus on deep belly breaths (inhaling so the belly extends out and contracts in). Count to 3 on the inhale and 3 on the exhale for the first few cycles, then incrementally increase the count until you reach your limit.
Belly breathing is a way to intentionally shift your body to a state of calm. It does this by "[increasing] the supply of oxygen to your brain and [stimulating] the parasympathetic [rest and digest] nervous system..." (link)
No. 1) Ask for Help
This is helpful for everyone, and absolutely key for people dealing with anxiety disorders. Whenever you may be unsure of where to go or what to do, just ask someone around you. Either they'll be able to help or they'll be just as lost as you, both of which are a win.
This blog post touches on something very near and dear to me: women with short hair.
I originally cut 13-ish inches of my hair in the fall of 2013. I'd just graduated from McGill and wanted/needed to do something drastic. It was the academic equivalent of the ever-dramatic post-breakup hair cut. It wasn't a decision taken lightly, to be sure. I'd been thinking about it since age 13, and was finally convinced to make the cut when I wore a short wig for a production and loved it! (The production was Alcina. You can check out a photo of me in the aforementioned wig on my 'Gallery' page.)
I've felt many things about my hair in the time since. On bad days - when I'm tired, or I have raging PMS, or my anxiety is particularly strong - I desperately wish for 13 extra inches of hair to hide behind. Other days the back of my hair has grown to resemble a mullet and I have to take a few minutes to amateurishly tame it. Most days, however, I feel so much like myself that I wonder how I ever lived with long hair.
Also, I can do my hair in 3 minutes. Boom.
Back in April, BuzzFeed posted a video where some of their female staffers tried having short hair for a week (with wigs, of course). Here's the link: "Women Try Short Hair for a Week"
Now. I must say that having short hair is not for every woman. First, it grows way too darn fast, and second, some woman just feel more comfortable with long hair, and that's cool! You do you. This video, however, painted having short hair as emotionally destructive. All of the women faced really strong criticism from friends or family, and one couldn't even handle wearing it for the whole week.
Granted, the wigs were terrible. BuzzFeed, with all of the resources it has access to, somehow managed to find the most soccer-mom-esque, ill-fitting, poor quality wigs to give their staffers. If I'd had to wear anything like that on my head for a week I probably would have felt similarly.
Because of this and many other reasons, I must make it clear that this video is NOT AN ACCURATE REPRESENTATION OF BEING A WOMAN WITH SHORT HAIR. Got it? Was the all-caps writing enough to get my point across? Good. In the almost four years I have had short hair, I have experienced only a handful of negative interactions because of it. Much more frequent have been the compliments, both from strangers and people I know, saying how much my haircut suits me. Though the absolute MOST IMPORTANT THING is that I feel like myself. My outward appearance matches the person I am inside, and that is worth more than anything.
You cannot control other people's opinions and biases. It's impossible. What you do have control over is You. Your body, your dreams, your path, your decisions. If you, fellow woman, want to cut your hair short, please go and do it. Yours is the only opinion that counts when it comes to your body.
As I wait for my first professionally taken headshots to be edited, I reflect back onto why I decided to make a website in the first place. It was not, in fact, originally planned to be opera-centric. I had undergone a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training and was convinced that music was not for me. I did not, however, want to disregard the possible income to be obtained through singing, so this website was initially going to be multipurpose: for opera, yoga, AND photography.
It did not look good. It was convoluted, messy, and frankly too much. In the computer age, streamlined is ideal, so that's what I did. There was some soul-searching along the way, and, without giving too much detail, I eventually found my way back to singing. This leaves us where we are today! On my website, filled with the past, present, and future of my singing. It's been a long and circuitous path I have traveled to bring me to this point in my life and career, but in this case the old cliché holds true: we are shaped by the experiences we have, whether planned or not. I have come full-circle back to an honest love of singing, and this website is the culmination of my journey.