Performance anxiety relates to one’s fear of not being able to meet standards when completing a specific task. These perceived expectations may be self-implemented or external, but can greatly impact a person’s life. One may experience performance anxiety for many reasons such as concerns of being judged by others, self-doubt, or familial pressures.
What Is Performance Anxiety?
Performance anxiety affects those who are overly fearful of failing to finish a task or fulfill a responsibility properly. This can occur in any type of situation with a seemingly important outcome, whether the person is in the spotlight of a conversation, taking an exam, or playing a sport. This type of anxiety disorder may stem from an individual’s people-pleasing tendencies as they seek to prove themselves worthy to others.1
Symptoms of Performance Anxiety
Symptoms of performance anxiety are similar to those of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A person’s overwhelming worries about performing well can result in uncomfortable physical symptoms, possibly even a panic attack. These impact an individual’s life in numerous ways, from their relationships to their ability to excel academically.
Common symptoms of performance anxiety include:
- Sweaty palms
- Dry mouth
- Noticeable shaking
- Light headed
- Blurry vision
- Racing heart
- Tight throat
Types of Performance Anxiety
Performance anxiety comes in many forms and is not always tied to a physical presence in front of others. A person may even experience this for day-to-day activities and interactions. However, recognizing their triggers can help them determine what may be causing this anxiety.
Common types of performance anxiety include:
A person with stage fright struggles with finding the confidence to perform in front of an audience. One may experience this on an actual stage or podium in front of thousands, or when giving a short presentation with a small group. If someone believes that they failed to provide adequate performance in the past, this can make them increasingly worried about making the same mistakes in any future situations.
Sexual Performance Anxiety
Sexual performance anxiety can affect anyone, no matter their gender. When this occurs, a person’s romantic life can be entirely interrupted as they fear that they will not be able to meet a partner’s expectations. If an ex-partner has said something negative about their sexual abilities in previous relationships, someone with sexual performance anxiety may become so overwhelmed by the pressure to “be better.”
Athletic Performance Anxiety
Athletes often play games in front of cheering, endearing fans. Add in the expectations for one to play well, this whole situation can trigger performance anxiety. One might struggle with the thought of others seeing them lose the game and fall short.
Students can become overwhelmed and nervous when it comes to taking exams. Many schools still require standardized testing which kids feel pressured to pass in order to succeed. Unfortunately, test anxiety can carry throughout one’s childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. This may be due to pressure to do well academically from family members or themselves.2
Being in an interview can be stressful, especially for a person seriously interested in a job. Interview anxiety may develop if someone fears they won’t be hired for not answering questions perfectly or behaving in a certain way. This can damage their confidence in themselves, making them believe they are not cut out for what will be expected of them by their new boss.
What Causes Performance Anxiety?
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to a person’s performance anxiety. Oftentimes, one’s anxiety relates to perfectionism or the desire to prove themselves to others. When a person feels that they have to live up to high expectations, they often increase the pressure they set on themselves.
Possible causes of performance anxiety include:
- Self-doubt: Performance anxiety may affect a person who does not believe that they can meet standards appropriately. This self-doubt can become a self-fulling prophecy and further feed into the anxiety they experience.
- Social anxiety disorder: Those with social anxiety disorder feel overwhelmed in social settings. Because of this, one can easily become anxious when completing a task, performing, or interviewing with others.
- People-pleasing behaviors: One sign of a people-pleaser is a fear others will be mad at them if they fail to meet expectations, resulting in performance anxiety.
- Past challenges: Those who have been insulted or bullied because of past presentations, sports games, or ability to complete a task can experience performance anxiety in the future. They may worry that they will receive the same treatment if they are subpar at a task.
- Family pressures: Family pressures can easily make a person become anxious, especially if they seek to prove themselves worthy to members.
How Is Performance Anxiety Diagnosed?
When diagnosing anxiety, recognizing the triggers that result in one’s performance anxiety is important. When these are shared with a mental health or medical professional, these triggers can be used for diagnosing the type of anxiety a person is experiencing. If all of this individual’s fears point to performance anxiety, a diagnosis will be given and a treatment plan can be explored.3
Treatment for Performance Anxiety
There are many different treatment methods for performance anxiety, so it is essential to work with a professional when determining the best approach for you. Therapy can help you address and understand your specific triggers for performance anxiety. Treatment for anxiety may also include prescription medication, which may decrease some of your negative symptoms.
Therapy can be an influential tool for those navigating performance anxiety. There are numerous therapy options for anxiety available, so finding the right therapist first is. They will help you determine which method will work best for you in order to receive the best support. If needed, there are also online therapy options for those who are unable to attend in-person sessions or prefer at-home treatment.
Therapy options for performance anxiety may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT for anxiety can help a person recognize how their thought patterns affect their behaviors. They can then learn how to make healthy changes.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR): EMDR for anxiety allows a person to work through the trauma that is causing their anxiety.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT teaches a person mindfulness techniques to use in moments of overwhelming anxiety to help them remain grounded and calm.
- Group therapy: Connecting with others in group therapy can help a person learn new ways to handle performance anxiety.
Medications for anxiety may be prescribed for those struggling with performance anxiety, often in conjunction with therapy. Being open and honest with your doctor about the severity of your symptoms helps ensure that they can find the options that work best for you.
7 Tips for Coping With Performance Anxiety
While performance anxiety can be overwhelming, there are several healthy coping mechanisms you can adopt that can help. For parents, try sitting down with your child to teach, review, and model these skills. Learning how to navigate anxiety in the moment is an important aspect of addressing these signs and symptoms
Here are 7 number tips for coping with performance anxiety:
1. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness for anxiety is a practice that can be used before, during, and after moments of anxiety. Taking five minutes a day to incorporate this into your routine can be beneficial in the long term. Learning how to be mindful and accepting of your emotions helps you remain grounded and calm. If you are anxiously anticipating a big performance or responsibility, use this method whenever you start to feel overwhelmed. Staying present in the moment can help you avoid being concerned about future outcomes or events.
2. Get Out in Nature
Think about a nice breeze of fresh air. It can be relieving, right? There are many benefits of nature for your mental health, and getting outside can help you feel relaxed and clear your mind. Practicing yoga for anxiety is one way to reap the benefits of the outdoors.
3. Prioritize Self Care
Self-care doesn’t necessarily look like bubble baths and face masks. Learn what self-care methods work for you and help rejuvenate your soul. There are many benefits of self-care as it can help you feel grounded and more self-aware. Make time to do things you enjoy at least once a week in order to help reduce any anxiety you feel in your day-to-day life. Doing so is especially beneficial when preparing for an important event.
4. Do Breathwork Exercises
Breathwork can help you remain calm and relaxed in moments of stress. Taking a good, deep breath before having to perform or complete an intimidating task can ease your anxiety. Try starting with mindful breathing or diaphragmatic breathing guided exercises if you are unsure of how to begin.
5. Practice Positive Self-Talk
Negative self-talk can impact you in more ways than one, and may even contribute to feelings of worthlessness or inferiority. To fix this, write down at least three positive things about yourself and why you like these aspects. The more you start to realize how valuable and beautiful you are, the less likely you will feel negative about yourself when expected to perform.
6. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques look different for everyone but can include practicing yoga, mindfulness, or simply listening to a podcast. Staying in tune with your body helps you pinpoint where anxiety is causing tension and work to release it when needed.
7. Face Your Fears
Taking the time to actually face your worries and fears can help you overcome them. While you might feel anxious to perform, using coping techniques in the midst of a difficult situation can relieve some of your discomforts. With more and more practice, you can learn how to confront your triggers.
In My Experience
In my experience, developing your own coping skills is important when dealing with anxiety. Any client who comes to me in therapy for anxiety is encouraged to explore their triggers and how their symptoms have been affecting their life. By addressing the cause of their worries early on, they can work to address and overcome them.