Performance Anxiety

Many of us commonly experience some form of performance anxiety or stage fright when taking a test, speaking in public, attending an interview, or acting on a stage.

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.

Do you find yourself worrying about your performance, whether it is singing, sports, or taking a test?

Do you think about all the things that can go wrong?

Do you find that this worrying gets in the way of your performance?

Do you try not to worry but find that this just makes things worse?

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

People who suffer from some form of stage fright exhibit symptoms of stress, anxiety or panic, that 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 peak performance.

When a person experiences performance anxiety, the 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.

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

For example, when giving a presentation or sitting an exam, the performance anxiety reaction may be a result of a lack of preparation. In the past this lack of preparation may have resulted in a negative experience.

For example, the young child who forgets their lines in a play due to a lack of preparation may never 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 know a singer who always has high anxiety when she has a sore throat - fearing that her voice will fail her in the middle of a performance.

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

What can you do about 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.

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 tips to mastering your public speaking anxiety or overcoming test anxiety.

Use exercise to reduce stress and relax your muscles.

Many performers find that waiting to go on stage, or perform at the big event can be intimidating. If this is the case, then try to do some light exercise to reduce your stress.

Practice breathing exercises.

Sometimes exercise cannot be done while waiting to perform, and I find it useful to take a few deep diagrammatic 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.

See these breathing exercises for some ideas.

Avoid people who make you nervous.

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

Use relaxing imagery or imagery that helps to reduce your stress.

For public speakers, I have found that imagining your audience sitting in underwear, can be a way to remind yourself that the intimidating audience are just people.

Create a period of worry time in the day.

Set aside a period of time to worry. 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 medications such as beta blockers that can counter the release of adrenaline in 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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