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Performance Anxiety

If your heart races while giving a presentation in front of colleagues or during an on-stage performance, you’re not alone. Millions of people experience performance anxiety, and most people report that they’d rather get the flu than perform in front of an audience.

Performance anxiety, also called “stage fright,” can prevent you from doing what you love. In some cases, stage fright can even hurt your career. Even worse, anxiety can negatively affect your self-esteem and quality of life. Fortunately, performance anxiety is common and highly treatable. You can do many things to reduce your anxiety.

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When does performance anxiety occur?

Performance anxiety can arise any time you’re on center stage, the focus of an event, or “performing.” Some situations in which you might experience anxiety include:

  • Raising your hand to answer a question in class.
  • Performing as a musician, singer, or actor at a recital
  • During sexual activity (sexual performance anxiety)
  • Playing a sport, especially when you’re the focus (i.e., tennis or golf)
  • Giving a presentation in front of an audience

Stage fright can affect anyone, from golfers to professional musicians, with most people experiencing some form of stage fright at some point in their lives. Even professional singers, athletes, and public speakers work with therapists to treat social anxiety, stage fright, and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of Performance Anxiety

For most people, performance anxiety involves a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. Although symptoms vary depending on the individual, some common symptoms include:

Physical Symptoms

Most people with performance anxiety experience physical symptoms. The physical symptoms surrounding performance anxiety occur when the body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in, and you might feel a significant difference in your anxiety levels after the end of a performance. Some common physical symptoms include:

  • Nausea and digestive issues
  • Dry mouth or feeling like you’re going to choke
  • Racing pulse
  • Sweaty or cold hands

Additionally, individuals who experience sexual performance anxiety often face sexual difficulties, such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, difficulty achieving orgasm, and other sexual problems.

Psychological Symptoms

In more severe cases, performance anxiety can hurt an individual’s well-being and mental health. Intrusive psychological symptoms include: 

  • Severe anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Memory problems
  • Worrying for weeks before a performance (anticipatory anxiety)
  • Panic attacks at the thought of performing
  • Inability to perform

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Treatment Options for Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety can feel debilitating, but it’s highly treatable. To improve your symptoms, it’s essential to seek treatment depending on your symptoms. For example, if your anxiety is related to a social phobia, you may benefit from group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Some interventions for performance anxiety include:

  • Schedule an appointment with a therapist. Working with a therapist can help you ease your state of mind, express your vulnerabilities, and develop healthy strategies to cope with stress and anxiety during stressful situations. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, therapy helps shift your cognitive processes, allowing you to focus on the positive.
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Practicing controlled breathing, biofeedback, and other mindfulness techniques can help you relax, free your mind of distraction, and redirect negative thoughts. While meditating, it can also be helpful to visualize the enjoyment you’re bringing to the audience. For the best results, it’s best to practice mindfulness techniques and meditation every day regardless of whether you have an upcoming performance, so you can effectively use the skill the next time you need it.
  • Maintain a comprehensive self-care routine. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and limiting caffeine and sugar intake can help reduce anxiety before a performance.

Therapy for Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety can leave you feeling vulnerable and insecure. Fortunately, therapy can help you overcome stage fright by tackling anxiety symptoms, using positive imagery and visualization, and building positive thoughts. Depending on the nature of your mental health concerns, it might help to search for a mental health professional experienced in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, sex therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR) therapy.

Whether you’re struggling with panic attacks, perfectionism, or anxiety related to sexual performance, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with an experienced mental health professional you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements.

One of the experienced mental health professionals on the WithTherapy platform will help you ease your state of mind during performances, effectively manage your anxiety symptoms, and identify the root cause of your anxiety.

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