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Managing adrenalin: winding down after a performance

Winding down after a performance It occurred to me recently that we musicians often discuss in great detail our preparation for a performance and the performance itself, but rarely do we consider what happens post-performance. After the relief of the concert being over, we might go down the pub, out for a meal, catch last trains or drive back home depending on the situation. But the adrenalin that we have experienced either positively or negatively during the performance, will still be pumping for some time afterwards. The American violinist, Hilary Hahn, describes it well in the interview she gave for the Beyond Stage Fright series a few years ago, and I quote:

“Adrenalin is a hormone which on a normal day will peak mid-afternoon and then wind down before the end of the day, ready for sleep. But if you peak it in such an intense way right before’re going way up and then down, and it’s not in line with your body’s natural way. You can feel out of whack and want to get back in line.”

I went to an inspiring concert at the Oxford Chamber Music Festival a few years ago which happened to be packed full of players I knew. After the performance, we went straight out to the pub as is the norm, and the players were in a heightened state, adrenalin still clearly pumping round their systems. Everybody wanted to carry the evening on beyond the pub, so I suggested we all walk to Port Meadow, a beauty spot near the river in Oxford. It was a beautiful evening, a full moon in a clear autumn sky, and as soon as we stopped at the edge of Port Meadow, I noticed that the adrenalin that had been so palpable among the players for the few hours before, calmed within minutes.

A view over Port Meadow, Oxford

This is what we need after a performance - the opportunity to wind down from being in a heightened state. Having a drink with friends is wonderful but it doesn’t always help the unwinding process and can even keep the adrenalin pumping. For me, some form of exercise and being by nature are the best ways to unwind. There is also shaking, something animals do regularly to let off steam and built up tension. It’s not always easy to do with other people around, but fantastically effective and a very fast way of getting rid of excess adrenalin.

A tuba player shaking out excess adrenalin

Managing adrenalin when it gets stuck

I think it’s essential that we know how to manage our adrenalin before and after performances. If we don’t, there is a danger that the fight-flight response gets stuck and we find ourselves constantly on high alert. After time, high alert starts to feel normal. A bit like constantly revving the accelerator in a car, something has to give and if this high alert continues for year after year, it can turn into adrenal fatigue.This is a condition that’s not recognised medically but is only too real to the people who suffer from it: constant fatigue, feeling depleted, inability to exercise without exhaustion, having inappropriate fight-flight responses, for example when sleeping at night, and so on. For musicians in a highly pressurised profession, the need to manage adrenalin on so many different levels is essential


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