Prue Leith has admitted she was “surprised” after experiencing severe stage fright as she prepared to undertake a nationwide tour for her first ever live show.
The Great British Bake Off judge, 83, added that she “persuaded” her doctor to give her anti-anxiety medication in order to help her overcome the stage fright.
“Nothing prepared me for the horror of stage fright,” Leith wrote in the Daily Mail, sharing her experiences of preparing for the tour, which will culminate in a final show in London on 6 April.
“When we do the first try-out in Bath, I’m so frightened I can’t breathe,” she shared in a detailed first person account. “My heart seems to ricochet from my chest to my throat; my mouth is dry; my hands are shaking; and my mind goes completely blank. I am fixated on the prompt cards stuck to the table in front of me, but my ability to read seems to have forsaken me.”
Leith was given propranolol, a type of beta blocker to “calm my heart”. “The propranolol certainly helps. I’m still nervous, but not terrified,” she added.
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What is stage fright?
Stage fright, often referred to as 'performance anxiety', is an acute anxiety that someone can experience before or during a performance in front of an audience.
It can be mild or severe, but severe stage fright can be “extremely limiting”, according to Clinical Partners, often eliciting a “fight or flight response”.
This type of performance anxiety can also be similar to a panic attack which can result in physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, shaking limbs, shortness of breath and feeling faint.
Why do you feel like you can’t breathe during a panic attack?
According to the Anxiety Institute, the physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by the body going into a “fight-flight-freeze” response which is the body’s natural response designed to protect us from danger.
“During an anxiety or panic-inducing situation, your body tries to take in more oxygen and your breathing quickens. Your body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up,” the site reads.
“This system is critical to our survival from true threat or danger and can be put into action during both perceived and actual moments of threat.”
So while a panic or anxiety attack can be worrying, it’s just your body’s natural response to the situation. Most panic attacks last anywhere from five minutes to half an hour.
What are beta blockers and how can the medication help with anxiety?
The way beta blockers work is by slowing down the heart and blocking the action of hormones such as adrenaline.
The medication usually comes in a tablet form and is a prescription-only medication. As well as being used for anxiety, beta blockers can help with angina, high blood pressure, preventing migraines and tremors.
The type of beta blocker Leith was prescribed is propranolol which, according to the NHS, can help with the physical signs of anxiety such as shaking and sweating.
While most people over the age of 12 can safely take propranolol, it is unsuitable for those with low blood pressure, and those who have liver or kidney problems.
What is the best way to deal with acute anxiety?
According to Mind, if you experience anxiety and panic attacks, treatment can include the use of talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or applied relaxation therapy, medication, or self-help resources such as CBT apps designed to help treat panic and anxiety attacks.
During a panic or anxiety attack, Professor Paul Salkovskis of the University of Bath told the NHS that it’s best to “ride out the attack” and to “try to keep doing things”.
“If possible, it's important to try to remain in the situation until the anxiety has subsided,” he added. “Confront your fear. If you don't run away from it, you're giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing's going to happen.
“If you’re having a short, sudden panic attack, it can be helpful to have someone with you, reassuring you that it will pass and the symptoms are nothing to worry about.”
He added that practicing breathing exercises can help to prepare you for a panic attack as you can train yourself to breathe more slowly when one does come on.
It’s best to breathe slowly in through your nose, and then out through your mouth. Count steadily from one to five as you breathe, and to close your eyes so your focus can be in breathing.
If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, you can consult your GP to discuss treatment options and support. You can also contact the charity Mind for information about mental health support and services.
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