Performance Anxiety is an intense fear about being judged negatively when performing a specific task in front of others. People experiencing performance anxiety may worry about failing a task before it has even begun. They fear that they will experience humiliation and rejection with long term negative outcomes. Performance anxiety can make a person feel incredibly vulnerable and fear that a mistake will damage their reputation forever.
Performance anxiety around a public presentation or show is also known as stage fright. Even the most experienced speakers, dancers, or performers of all kinds experience a degree of stage fright before their performances. Civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi struggled with public speaking for years. Singer Carly Simon experienced severe stage fright at the peak of her career. Performance anxiety does not indicate a lack of talent or expertise. On a good stress level (Eustress), stage fright heightens our senses and helps us focus on the task at hand.
Above a certain level, the ‘good’ and challenging Eustress morphs into Distress and we lose our focus and shift our perception fully on how others are judging us in a negative way. The performance anxiety elicits a fight-or-flight response, distracting a person and affecting their performance. A singer’s voice might shake, or a public speaker might forget their speech or speak too fast, a dancer will forget her cue and fail miserably.
Common symptoms of Performance Anxiety Disorder include:
- Excessive sweating, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, chills, and elevated blood pressure
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- A feeling that there are knots in your stomach
- Increased mistakes during the performance
- Shaking and nausea
- Avoidance and a great urge to back out of the performance
- Activation of digestive tract and the feeling of having to go to the bathroom.
Performance Anxiety negatively influences a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Often, those with performance anxiety might accept lower level jobs just to avoid public speaking or performing. They feel forced to self-sabotage their talents, feel stuck in their career and feel unable to move forward
Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy can help overcome performance anxiety by challenging the anxiety in a step-by-step process. By rebuilding your self-esteem you will feel stronger and less anxious presenting in front of others.