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How I Fought My Performance Anxiety to Record a Studio Album

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Hands clenched.

Sweaty palms.

Shallow breath.

Throat closing in.

Throat closing in.

Throat closing in.

I’m a songwriter and recording artist, but I struggle with debilitating performance anxiety. This anxiety follows me into the studio. I wrote and recorded an album with a producer in a state of sheer panic. Plugged in with the headphones, the silence blared between each breath, each note, each word. In anxious anticipation for my next entrance, all I could think was:

“Will I be able to swallow? I can’t swallow. I can’t swallow. I CAN’T SWALLOW.” I gripped my hands even tighter.

Entering the studio was like entering into the dark hole of my heart. It wasn’t just that I felt nervous about singing, but because of the added layer of singing about and voicing my struggle with anxiety, anorexia nervosa and depression. I was learning to feel again, but coming alive from a place of desperate numbness was another trauma of its own.

I recall my producer coaching me while we were recording my song, Learn To Cry. “Try to distance yourself from the character in this song,” he said. We both knew very well that I was the character I was singing about. She was locked up inside my tightened throat:  “I’m tangled, I’m twisted, I cannot resist it; who is this monster I hide?” I barely managed to choke out the lyrics. Every line was a victory.

Creating the album was my way of taking my life back. This is why making it was so important for me to do – and also so difficult. Anorexia had threatened my life once before; I was not going to let anxiety get the best of me again. My music helped me face and process my fears. Anxiety cannot survive such exposure. Anxiety screams, “Hide. Hide. Hide.” But I said, “Here I am.”

This is why my throat was so clenched. The truth felt stuck behind every swallow. My writing was painfully honest, and my heart was painfully sore. Although it was merely a studio room, it felt far more like a spotlight right on me. My mind kept repeating, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” but a quiet voice inside said, “keep going.”

We all have an inner voice. It’s the soft whisper that guides or warns us. This inner voice is what led me to the studio. It’s the voice that urged me to keep stepping toward the mic time and time again when it felt all too vulnerable, and all too intimidating. I felt able to express this inner voice of mine through my music, in a way nothing else seemed to be able to do. It’s fragility; it’s strength. 

When I listen back to the tracks on my album, I feel my fear again. I feel my doubt. I feel my vulnerability. I feel my fists tighten and my breathing become tense. But I also feel my courage. Every moment of struggle and fear that I felt and experienced in the studio has turned into my triumph. We all have this courage within us. We all have this inner voice that lies beneath our fears that says, “Keep going.”

I have a quote in my room that says, “Write your story; sing your song; speak truth into the hard spots.” So with my sweaty palms and clenched throat, I will continue to voice my truth, both in the studio and out. Even when my voice shakes. Especially then.

What about you?

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Originally published: June 13, 2018
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