Today, you’re going to learn all about performance anxiety and how to break the cycle of performance anxiety.
What Is Performance Anxiety?
Performance anxiety or “stage fright” is fear or intense apprehension one feels about their ability to perform a specific task.
Performance anxiety is not a mental disorder. Rather, it is a normal reaction to a stressful situation.
Most people experience some degree of anxiety when they’re about to perform. However, for some people the anxiety is so extreme that it interferes with their ability to perform at all.
Those who experience performance anxiety may worry about failing and facing humiliation or rejection.
Actors, athletes, musicians, and public speakers often get performance anxiety.
A person can also experience performance anxiety regarding sex, especially if they worry about how well they’re doing or have poor body image.
Symptoms of Performance Anxiety
Some common symptoms of performance anxiety include:
1. Physical Symptoms:
– Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
– Shortness of breath or shallow breathing
– Sweating excessively
– Trembling or shaking
– Dry mouth
– Nausea or stomach discomfort
– Muscle tension or stiffness
2. Cognitive Symptoms:
– Negative thoughts or self-doubt
– Fear of failure or making mistakes
– Difficulty concentrating or focusing
– Racing thoughts
– Memory lapses
– Preoccupation with judgment or criticism from others
– Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
3. Emotional Symptoms:
– Intense fear or panic
– Feelings of dread or terror
– Restlessness or irritability
– A sense of helplessness or hopelessness
– Low self-esteem or self-worth
– Feeling embarrassed or humiliated in front of others
It’s important to note that these symptoms are quite common among individuals experiencing performance anxiety and do not imply any personal weakness or deficiency.
How To Break The Cycle Of Performance Anxiety
Overcoming performance anxiety involves utilizing relaxation techniques and reframing anxious thoughts.
#1. Manage Your Anxious Symptoms
1. Adrenaline Rushes and Trembling
Usually adrenaline rush feels like a cold flush throughout our body. It can be followed by trembling as our body is trying to release and dispense of that adrenaline. (1)
So you don’t need to worry about it as it goes away on its own. the shaking and trembling is a sign that your adrenaline levels are going down.
2. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is another symptom of high adrenaline.
We feel like we need to breathe manually or else we will stop breathing.
Fortunately, the part of the brain responsible for our breathing is out of our control and will keep working without our conscious intervention. (2)
In fact, the best way for our breathing to return to normal is to let the brain and lungs do their job without trying to intervene. This is why you don’t need to worry about this symptom.
3. High Heart Rate
Having a heart attack is one of the main things we worry about when we experience anxious symptoms.
Fortunately, no amount of adrenaline will ever cause a heart attack or stroke. This is mainly because a heart attack or stroke occur when our arteries become blocked by deposits, which has everything to do with our diet and nothing to do with our brain or adrenaline levels. (3)
4. Nausea and Other Stomach Issues
Nausea is another uncomfortable anxious symptom. It can cause us to worry we might throw up.
However, our body is usually capable of handling it without our conscious intervention and without any consequences. Vomiting is exceedingly rare when experiencing anxious symptoms.
Other stomach issues include cramps and irregular bowel movements, caused by adrenaline. These too should go away as you calm down by your doctor is the best one to advise you in the interim.
Adrenaline can also cause feelings of dizziness. We may even feel like we could faint, which can be scary, especially when we are in a social situation.
Fortunately, adrenaline cannot cause us to faint.
This is because fainting occurs when our blood vessels expand rapidly, like when we stand up too quickly. Whereas adrenaline causes our blood vessels to contract, not expand, which means adrenaline actually prevents us from fainting. (4)
6. Worrying In Bed
Some people would spend hours in bed going over the event of the day or worrying about an upcoming event or project.
One way to deal with this is to ask yourself, “Should I worry about this right now?” If there’s something you can do about it, you can write it down and take care of it the next day.
If worrying about it now won’t lead you to take action, it’s a waste of time and energy. In response, try telling yourself, “I will take care of it tomorrow.”
You can shift your focus by listening to a soothing story or meditating.
Many people would also worry about not getting enough sleep, which causes them to stay up more, creating a loop and making their anxiety even more intense.
It helps to know that, some nights of poor sleep are not enough to cause significant lasting damage. (5)
That’s why the best thing you can do is to be at peace with the idea of getting a only a few hours of sleep or even not sleeping at all. This will give your body the chance to finally relax and actually get to sleep.
#2. Reframe Your Anxious Thoughts
Our thoughts directly influence our emotions and behavior.
Changing our anxious thoughts will also change how we feel.
You can reframe your anxious thoughts by answering the following questions:
- What anxious thoughts do I have?
- What’s another way of looking at this situation?
- Is this thought necessarily true?
- What might I say to someone else who is in this same situation?
#3. Try The 333 Rule for Anxiety?
The 333 rule is a grounding technique to help you calm down when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
To practice the 333 rule, all you need to do is to look around your environment and:
- Name 3 things you see
- Identify 3 sounds you hear
- Touch 3 things (in your body, or external objects)
Even though there is no formal research into the effectiveness of the 333 rule, many people report feeling much calmer and grounded after doing this simple technique.
The 333 rule won’t get rid of your anxiety and is not a substitute for treatment. But it can be a great way to manage your anxiety in the moment.
Studies show that meditation has positive effects on all kinds of bodily processes, including our mood.
If you’re not familiar with meditation, you need to keep in mind that it’s impossible to make our brain stop thinking so the goal is not to fight your thought.
Rather, the goal is to create a distance between you and your thoughts by noticing your thoughts without engaging in them, and to simply shift your attention to something else (like your breath or your pulse in your hand and feet) each time your mind wanders.
#6. Use Grounding Exercises
The Safe Place
Take slow, deep breaths and visualize a safe and calm place in your mind. It could be real or imagined.
Use all of your senses. Notice what you see, what you hear, what you can smell, the texture and temperature you can feel.
Practice this visualization so you can use it whenever you need to. Having a photograph of that place in front of you can be helpful.
The Butterfly Hug
Cross your arms and rest each hand on the opposite shoulder. Tap your hands alternately on each shoulder until you are soothed. Focus on your breathing as you tap.
#6. Use Opposite Action
Opposite action is a skill that dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) teaches.
This skill helps you regulate emotions by doing the opposite of what your emotions urge you to do.
For example, you may identify that you’re feeling sad and that the urge associated with sadness is to stay in bed.
You can influence the way feel by choosing to do the opposite, that is getting out of bed and getting active.
#7. Practice Systematic Desensitization
Fear can be an important factor that causes us to self-sabotage.
Systematic desensitization (SD) is a type of behavioral therapy that is primarily used as a treatment for phobias.
But the technique can be used to overcome fears, as well.
To use SD, you need to:
- learn relaxation techniques (e.g. Progressive Muscle relaxation, deep breathing, etc.)
- create a hierarchy of stimuli from least fear-provoking to most.
- slowly expose yourself to items on your hierarchy list while using relaxation techniques.
Example: overcoming fear of spiders
- Thinking about spiders
- Looking at pictures of spiders
- Looking at a spider through a window
- Looking at a spider across the room
- Looking at a spider within a few feet
#8. Make Lifestyle Changes
1. Exercise More
Exercising three to five times a week for a period of a half-hour or more boosts our mood and helps with overall health.
Exercise also helps reduce anxiety: it gives our body a chance to get rid of adrenaline excess.
2. Pay Attention These Aspects of your Diet
Dehydration increases the chance we will experience anxious symptoms.
There are four main factors that impact dehydration: water, electrolytes (essential minerals), alcohol and caffeine.
The body needs a certain balance of electrolytes and water to function. Without enough water or salts, our blood vessels constrict, which causes the heart and lungs to go into overdrive. (6)
Make sure you drink enough water and get enough salts in your diet.
This would also mean that you need to avoid substances that dehydrate you, like caffeine and alcohol. Both are diuretics, which means they make us urinate more.
Caffeine also causes our blood vessels to constrict, which can amplify the strength of our anxious symptoms. (7)
3. Maintain Good Sleep Quality
Sleeping well might not do much to reduce anxious symptoms, but sleeping poorly is proven to increase these symptoms. (8)
6. Have a Healthy Support System
A nonjudgmental support system can make a world of difference when recovering from anxiety.
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s our responsibility to request their help and communicate with them what’s helpful and what’s unhelpful.
The following are some common examples of cognitive distortions or thinking errors:
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
This is when you look at experiences in absolutes or black and white terms.
Example: “if I can’t have my dream body, then there’s no point in going to the gym.”
This is when you view a single negative event as a pattern of negative events. If you engage in this type of thinking, you may find yourself using words such as always or never.
Example: “He rejected me. I must be unlovable.”
3. Discounting the Positive
This is when we dismiss good experiences or compliments as being exceptions or insist that our positive qualities are average and shouldn’t count.
Example: “I did well this time, but anyone could do that.”
4. Magnifying the Negative
This is when we put extreme emphasis on the negative while minimizing any coexisting positives.
Example: “Yeah, I worked out for 15 minutes today. But why does that matter, I’m still overweight.”
5. Shoulds, Oughts, and Musts
This is when we criticize ourselves or other people using shoulds, oughts and musts.
Example: “I should work overtime for a month before I can ask for a promotion.”
6. Fortune Telling
This is when we predict or assume the outcome ahead of time without knowing for certain.
Example: “There’s no point in getting back on dating websites. I’m never going to find the woman of my dreams.”
7. Mind Reading
This is when we jump to conclusions regarding others thoughts and feelings without any clear evidence.
Example: “I know she didn’t smile at me because she thinks I’m fat.”
8. Emotional Reasoning
This when we turn our feelings into facts.
Example: “I feel like I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown, so I must be in real danger.”
This is when we try to capture the “essence” of ourselves or someone else with a label.
Example: “How could I get this wrong? I’m stupid.”
Free Printable Worksheets For Anxiety (PDF)
- The 333 Rule for Anxiety and Other Coping Strategies (healthline.com)
- Managing and Reducing Anxiety – AdultMentalHealth.org
- Anxiety About Going to Work? 3-3-3 Rule to Manage Overwhelm – Atrium (atriumstaff.com)
As a BetterHelp affiliate, we may receive a commission from BetterHelp, at zero cost to you, if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.