Overcoming Performance Anxiety

overcoming performance anxiety Overcoming performance anxiety or stage fright is about overcoming the anxiety of performing in front of others. Test taking anxiety, public speaking anxiety and music performance anxiety are common types of performance anxiety. Here are some strategies to overcome your stage fright.

Getting nervous before a performance is normal, but when this nervousness gets in the way and robs you of your potential, then you may be suffering from performance anxiety.

While a healthy level of performance anxiety can sharpen focus and attention, too much anxiety can dampen your creativity, sap your energy and handicap your productivity.

I have seen elite athletes choke under pressure, public speakers shake and unable to say a word and knowledgeable students fail a test because their mind went blank.

These are all common signs of performance anxiety.

Overcoming performance anxiety can help you to perform at your best!

Do you suffer from performance anxiety?

Do you find yourself worrying about your performance, whether it is singing, playing a musical instrument or playing in a big game?

Do you think about all the things that can go wrong? Do you find that this worrying gets in the way of your performance?

Sometimes this worrying can just make things worse!

For some people this worry evaporates when the performance begins, but for others this tension increases until they escape the spotlight.

What is performance anxiety: Signs and symptoms

Whether it is music performance anxiety or a fear of public speaking - people who suffer from some form of stage fright exhibit symptoms of stress, anxiety or panic.

These symptoms can can range from nausea, sweating and palpitations, to a heightened sense of fear and foreboding about the upcoming event.

If you are an actor in a play, you can forget your lines; if you are giving a speech you may stutter your words or lose your train of thought, and if you are a sportsperson you may perform below expectations.

In short, performance anxiety impedes your ability to perform at your peak performance.

When you experience performance anxiety your body activates the fight or flight response.

This releases adrenaline and prepares the body for more energy to fight or flee from the cause of stress....But there is a fine line between what is needed to succeed and pushing yourself over the edge!

What causes performance anxiety

While the symptoms of stress and anxiety are very real, the underlying causes depend on the individual.

Performance anxiety usually arises from knowing that your performance is being judged or watched by others.

But the cause may run deeper than this.

A person who does not prepare adequately for an exam or a presentation may experience shame, fear or anxiety.

For example somebody who forget their lines in a play due to a lack of preparation may not be able to bring themselves to perform on stage in front of a group of people again.

Performance anxiety may also arise because of the sensations that you are currently feeling.

For example, I remember working with quite a famous singer who was always very anxious when he had a sore throat - fearing that his voice would fail him in the middle of his performance.

For other singers, such as Barbara Streisand, this performance anxiety occurs every time they are on stage.

Here are a number of strategies for overcoming performance anxiety.

Overcoming performance anxiety

Practice, practice, practice....and then rehearse

If your performance involves an activity that can be practiced, such as a musical instrument, a speech or a test, then adequate practice could be incorporated to master your craft.

This alone may help you in overcoming performance anxiety.

Once you have attained a level of mastery, it is important to rehearse in an environment as similar to the actual situation.

So if you are giving a speech or a music recital, practice in front of family and friends well before the big event. See these articles on test taking anxiety and public speaking anxiety for more information.

If you are a sports person, practice various scenarios on the field and also with guided imagery that involves success-based imagery and coping imagery. Get a sense of what you are walking into and feel prepared for it.

Here are a number of other strategies for overcoming performance anxiety.

Practice breathing exercises

Many performers find that waiting to go on stage or perform at the big event can be intimidating.

I find it useful to take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths, breathing down into the stomach.

This can help to counter the stress response which can calm you down - the belly breath also increases oxygen to the brain and sharpens focus. This can be a quick method for overcoming performance anxiety.

There are a number of other breathing exercises that you can potentially use.

Avoid people who make you nervous

If others are making you nervous, then stand away from them, or use headphones to listen to music.

Music can be a great way to get you into your optimal zone of functioning.

Music can be used to psych you up or calm you down....depending on what music you have on! It can also be a way for you to mentally prepare with minimal distractions.

Use relaxing imagery or guided imagery

It is often useful to go through your performance in your head before you actually do it. Some of the greatest performers on the planet have done this.

Jack Nicklaus, arguably the world's greatest ever golfer used to picture his stroke, the flight or the ball, and the placement of the ball at the green; before each and every shot.

You can also use relaxing imagery or guided imagery to enhance your performance as a tool for overcoming performance anxiety.

Create a period of worry time in the day

Sometimes worrying about an upcoming speech, test or interview can send your head into a swirl.

You tell yourself to stop thinking about it...but guess what...the thoughts just come back even stronger.

Rather than telling yourself to stop thinking about the event - which can be hard to do, why not set aside a period of time to think about the event.

If you find that you are getting worried all day, rather than telling yourself not to worry - which can increase your worry!!... set aside 5-10 minutes a day as your worry time.

Write your worry's down on paper in this time.

When you are done, put your worry's away till next time.

Don't do this before bed and set an alarm for 5-10 minutes so that you don't drag out your worrying.

Share your fears with others

Share your fears with sympathetic others.

This can help you to normalize your fear and your friends may also remind you how talented you are.

Sharing your experiences can also develop a social network for yourself.

See a health professional

See your local doctor for help. A doctor can point you to local resources that can help or, if required, prescribe performance anxiety medications such as beta blockers that can counter the release of adrenaline into the system.

See a psychologist or your local medical professional for evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy that can help.

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