How to turn anxiety to your advantage

Published Aug 20, 2018 | Written by Jeremy Knight

As a part-time singing teacher, I regularly work with adults who've been drawn to singing via a variety of personal journeys. 

For some, it's a chance to reignite a childhood passion - or the simple of exploring something new. 

For others, it's a desire to banish demons - with a surprising number relating stories of mortifying "public humiliation" incidents in school music classes. 

What unites pretty much everyone though, is the intense anxiety that they experience at the prospect of performing in public. 

Whether it's a mild case of nerves or acutely debilitating panic, anxiety is an undiscriminating force which can take hold in our jobs, in our hobbies and our relationships.

And as I'm discovering in the course of my teaching, it also has the power to impact the most outwardly confident and capable of people - from magistrates to GPs to professional actors to head teachers. 

As author Amy Morin explains there is the argument that a certain degree of nervousness can be a help, rather than a hindrance. 

Says Morin: "You can succeed when you feel anxious, simply by being open to the idea that nervous energy can fuel your performance."

"With practice," she says, "you'll gain confidence in your ability to tolerate anxiety, and you'll become more likely to see stress as a challenge, rather than a threat."

Every summer I host a BBQ when singers of all ages and abilities can come together to perform in front of a supportive group of family, friends and music-lovers.  Despite the informal and welcoming ethos of the afternoon, nerves are in evidence everywhere. 

Harnessing the will to walk to the stage and take the mic takes every shred of courage. And the relief at the end of every performance is palpable. 

But what truly resonates is the sense of personal pride that comes from conquering a fear, achieving a goal and putting those childhood demons well and truly to rest.


Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion. It's meant to alert you to danger so you can keep yourself safe.

When you encounter danger your anxiety triggers a physiological response. A rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, and muscle tension are just a few of the "fight or flight" symptoms you might experience.

That surge of energy encourages you to take action that will keep you alive.

But most anxiety-provoking situations in the modern world aren't actually life-threatening.  Giving a toast, asking for a raise, or launching a new business won't kill you. But, your body's anxiety alarm bells might react to those types of events as though you're in a life or death situation. The way you deal with that physiological response determines whether your anxiety is an asset or a liability.

Published by Jeremy Knight August 20, 2018
Jeremy Knight