Anxious Without my Drink
April 2, 2009 9:55 PM   Subscribe

What's the closest alcohol substitute for a performer with anxiety?

I no longer drink, but I still get nervous when playing in front of crowds. I'm looking for something (legal) I can take that will loosen me up and can be taken on an as needed basis. Getting a prescription is not a problem. Currently I'm leaning toward beta blockers, but I have no experience that would validate their usefulness- I've only heard stories of performers using it.

Again, I'm not specifically looking for any feelings of wellbeing a la alcohol, but the disinhibiting/anxiety reducing qualities.

I know the "tough love" answer would be to overcome stagefright naturally, but that's not an option for me at this point.

Throwaway email:

Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Rescue Remedy? It helps me in anxious situations, but I'm pretty open to suggestion and it might not work for you.
posted by padraigin at 10:00 PM on April 2, 2009

Hmmm, swapping alcohol for prescription drugs doesn't sound like a sensible approach. Not knowing why you stopped drinking - addicition, health - it's somewhat difficult to advise. For instance, if it was an addiction you used to cope, finding something else - even prescription drugs - to cope with the same situation is liable to lead to another addiction.
posted by crossoverman at 10:02 PM on April 2, 2009

Rescue Remedy is mostly booze anyway.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:06 PM on April 2, 2009

I've heard banana's chemically alleviate the fear response and have friends who swear by them prior to interviews.

A google search seems to validate this wacky anecdote.
posted by oblio_one at 10:14 PM on April 2, 2009

Rescue Remedy comes in pastille form, which doesn't have the alcohol base that the liquid compounds do.
posted by padraigin at 10:15 PM on April 2, 2009

The old standby is Inderal (Propranolol), not that I'm suggesting it.
Or you could play the blues...Valium.

What I do suggest is just before stage, take a quick run around the block (or calisthenics, etc, in the dressing room), it will take your mind off your nerves and energize you. Worked for me.
posted by artdrectr at 10:20 PM on April 2, 2009

Propranolol works fine for reducing the jitters. It is still widely prescribed for stage fright. It is one of the more benign things you can take for this sort of problem, although if you attempt to stupidly ratchet up your use in the same manner as drink, you can look forward to

I myself had to eventually kick it up to a bona fide SSRI, but my primary problem wasn't stage fright to begin with (although godknows I had a career-killing variety when I was a performing songwriter).
posted by mykescipark at 10:25 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

(I never noticed that Rescue Remedy did anything, fwiw.)
posted by small_ruminant at 10:32 PM on April 2, 2009

I would guess you want a benzodiazepine like Xanax or the aforementioned Valium.

Another term you might find helpful is anxiolytic. (That article lists the different types of anxiolytics.)
posted by IndigoRain at 10:49 PM on April 2, 2009

Do you use it to loosen you up or to prevent anxiety attacks?

Gravol (the stuff you give to kids to help with carsickness) usually helps my performance anxiety when giving important presentations and such. A half tab a half hour beforehand. Helps some in preventing the fight/flight nausea, increased pulse, and acute production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. I don't need it all the time, but if I find myself freaking out (for no good reason), I'll pop half a tab. Haven't needed to use it in three, four years, though. Though I have a box of them in my desk drawer in the lab.

For getting loose... nothing works for me other than being prepared, and therefore more confidant. Practice in front of people?
posted by porpoise at 10:51 PM on April 2, 2009

If you're looking for a real oddball possibility, how about tryptophan?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:04 PM on April 2, 2009

In my field, when I last looked, people used beta blockers - I don't because I hate having to rely on a drug to do my job. I even had a conservatory teacher who recommended them (which I found irresponsible, but that's me).
But I do eat bananas when pressure is high.Try chew properly or you'll end up with internal rumble. What I've heard is that they work similarly to beta blockers.
What do they do? Your basic stage fright doesn't go away, but the nasty shaking of hands, knees, voice gets under control.

I don't see the meaning of your "tough love" line. Okay, you want to prevent us from telling you, "don't try fixing a car engine by washing the car." Great, I won't tell you.
But there isn't even a way to "overcome stage fright naturally." There's only ways to try to cope with it, emphasis on "try": mental training of all sorts, therapy, you name it. There is gazillions of specialists out there who deal with this stuff because, believe me, EVERYONE has stage fright. You don't need to fix this alone and there is no "natural" way out.
posted by Namlit at 12:11 AM on April 3, 2009

I realize this may not be very helpful, but can you see a doctor or psychologist and explain the situation to them? The would probably recommend a combination of therapy and anti-anxiety medication. A psychologist would probably also have non-medicinal coping strategies.
posted by !Jim at 1:16 AM on April 3, 2009

Xanax + beta blocker; is what my doctor has told me. They work nicely together.

It helps. Don't try anything for the first time at performance, try it out with friends or at a party, somewhere with lower stakes.

As far as toughing it out, around here our recent line about that kind of thinking is:"What are you going to do, win a medal?" But we just get lazier and lazier so maybe that's not the kind off thinking you want to buy into.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:34 AM on April 3, 2009

Man, I hadn't even thought of getting pharmaceutical help for stagefright, cos I get real scared but still I go on.

But I remember I was having a weird time during a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest"; I played Gwendoline and I'd fucked Algernon on the stage the night before (after hours of course), and he'd also been seeing Cecily who came to theatre mere minutes after we'd finished and I hated her because she was a ridiculous pain in the arse and we were so close to having been discovered fucking on the couch in the middle of the stage upon which we'd all be performing the next night by her, the stupid bitch. Anyway, I had to go on the next night and I asked my step-mum for half a valium, and it was probably my best performance all season. That was an exceptional case, though.

Mostly I think you just gotta soldier on, comrade.
posted by h00py at 3:46 AM on April 3, 2009 [15 favorites]

I would just like to take this moment to thank h00py for the greatest post on the Internet I've read all week.
posted by tumult at 5:20 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Many years ago, a friend was prescribed Xanax in order to deal with a brief period of situational anxiety. His doctor at the time told him that if he was ever feeling anxious and didn't have my pills with him, he could take a Benadryl instead.
posted by amarynth at 5:22 AM on April 3, 2009

How do you handle hot peppers, can you handle them before a performance? I know that when I eat quite a bit of something really spicy with lasting heat I fall into a very soothing buzzlike state.

It won't last you're whole performance, but it could help you get started and also work as a bit of a distraction.
posted by Science! at 5:32 AM on April 3, 2009

hey if you want something natural, try Kava Kava tea. It has a way of calming you down
posted by Hands of Manos at 5:58 AM on April 3, 2009

If you have had a drinking problem in the past, it is absolutely not advisable to take any of the benzodiazepines (Xanax, etc.). A beta blocker is a very solid choice from a medical perspective.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:20 AM on April 3, 2009

Ativan/Lorazepam takes the edge off nicely. Prescription only though.
posted by electroboy at 6:23 AM on April 3, 2009

Classical musicians usually reach for the propranolol, in pretty small doses (eg, 5-20mg). Between propranolol and bananas, having felt the effect of both, bananas produce much the same effect but at a much, much lower level.

What has worked for me to more-or-less replace beta blockers has been an arsenal of tricks mostly derived from A Soprano on Her Head, the most powerful of which (for me) is trying, intentionally, to magnify the symptoms of nervousness -- shake hands more, clench stomach, etc. There's something about getting control over the symptoms, even if it's to make them worse, that can break the grip of the stage fright. (This seems extremely reasonable to me, since the worst part about stage fright isn't the symptoms, it's the loss of control.)
posted by range at 6:45 AM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

IANAD and I am not vouching for the sensibility of substituting benzodiazepenes for alcohol, but Klonopin (legally prescribed) got me through many a presentation in grad school. It's not addictive for me, but YMMV and apparently many others have had problems with it.

In the long run I'd recommend a meditation practice to overcome the occasional anxiety you experience. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, which is a lot different than stage fright.
posted by desjardins at 6:52 AM on April 3, 2009

Here's my experience using beta blockers for performance anxiety.

I can be an incredibly nervous performer, and my nervousness manifests itself as bad shakiness when I'm playing. A few years ago, I got into a cycle of anticipating the shakiness before I'd even go near a stage, which led to *increased* anxiety and worry and doubt, which led to even more terrible shakes, etc., etc. I contemplated giving up performing entirely.

Then I tried using beta blockers. They had no real effect on my internal feeling of nervousness, but they killed the physical part (the shakiness) right off - I still felt anxious about playing, but my hands and fingers felt solid as rocks. This was a really bit deal for me, because it totally interrupted that self-perpetuating cycle of anticipatory anxiety, and allowed me to work on calming down and enjoying myself while I played.

I only took the beta blockers 4 or 5 times, but having that window of chemically-induced physical ease was a profoundly helpful experience for me. I just wanted to let you know that using beta blockers worked as a physical "loosening up" for me, not really a mental one, if you see what I mean, so your mileage may really vary on this one. I still felt nervous (even including stomach butterflies), but I was so thrilled to not be shaking that the nervousness was translated into a cool kind of excitement.

I still often get a bit nervous before playing, but I now have breathing and relaxation routines that really help.
posted by Hellgirl at 7:36 AM on April 3, 2009

Inderal got me through my PhD orals. I had a full-fledged anxiety attack on my first attempt, the only attack I've ever had. The second time, on Inderal, I could feel the panic starting, my heart starting to race, the sweat starting to form...then it all leveled off and I was fine. The nervousness was still there, but it was totally manageable.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:48 AM on April 3, 2009

About inderal: from my experience it affects one differently at different times. It lowers your heart rate and blocks adrenaline so this lately makes me very tired, very very sleepy, which is bad for a performance. I need some energy which is bad if inderal is blocking all of it despite my efforts to get energy to certain parts of my body to perform. Alchohol is also a stimulant which beta blockers are definitely not.

Maybe some klonopin (used wisely and minimally since it's addictive) mixed with yerba mate?

Or a great therapist to ease your mind, guide you out of your fears.
posted by scazza at 9:25 AM on April 3, 2009

I hate to be crass, but maybe you could try rubbing one out before your gig.
posted by bink at 9:37 AM on April 3, 2009

I don't do this anymore, but for a while I'd go running for about 15-20 minutes about an hour before performances, and it seemed that (a) took the edge off of most performance anxiety and (b) opened up my lungs and helped me sing better. I'd probably still be doing it if my joints were healthier.

There was also a somewhat recent thread about general anxiety control here, I thought the niacin comment was particularly intruiging.
posted by weston at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2009

Seconding range. Trying to control the symptom potentiates it and expressing it defuses it. When you are afraid, shiver. Shake your knees, shake your shoulders, shake your tongue and throat and make some kind of frightful noise. This works for anger too except that can be a little bit hazardous.

This pearl comes from Fritz Perls who was a theater director before he became a psychotherapist. I have no idea if it will work for you but it usually works well for me.
posted by bukvich at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2009

I second Science!'s suggestion - very hot, spicy food, if you can handle it.

I sometimes eat at a very good Sichuan restaurant, which is basically lots of very hot chilli. For the next hour or so after eating it, I am surprisingly relaxed, chilled, and buzzing happily.
posted by Diag at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2009

Kava kava might be helpful, though there's some studies that suggest if taken at too high of a dose or too often, it might cause liver damage.

Also, passionflower tea or passionflower capsules are good for taking the edge off of jitters.

Use it sensibly. More isn't always better when taking herbs.
posted by Issithe at 7:13 PM on April 4, 2009

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