Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach, sweat on your head, and your heart pounding as if it will break the rib cage while speaking/performing in public forums? Well, that’s probably performance anxiety you’re going through. Being nervous and having anxiety during important events is natural, but it is like scaling a mountain for some individuals.  

Whenever we feel that we are going to be judged for our performance style or speaking content of our presentation, we are bound to feel nervous and anxious, but we find ourselves prepared to go to it and subsequently manage it.

When the anxiety and nervousness are going out of proportion and hindering us in delivering the essential aspects of our lives and thereby reducing our growth, then probably it’s time to understand and correct the performance anxiety.

Anxiety is not a bad thing, and anxiety prepares us to adjust to ever-changing life situations. Mild to moderate anxiety increases our capacity and performance. Still, when it goes beyond and becomes severe enough to jeopardize our growth and development, it makes us feel crippling and disabled.

Causes of performance anxiety

Anxiety - Stage Fright

Before we learn how to combat performance anxiety/stage fright, we need to understand what makes us feel stressed and fearful during social situations. There can be innumerable reasons to feel anxious; it may be due to bad past experiences, introverted and shy nature, less supportive childhood, childhood trauma and abuse, family conflicts, lack of preparation for events, lack of confidence, negative thoughts and beliefs about self etc.

How to identify symptoms of performance anxiety

Our body reacts to anxious perception and anxiety-provoking situations and produces signs and symptoms which can be identified. These signs and symptoms further generate apprehension for future events and may lead to avoidance of such situations in the long term.

  • Racing heart rate, Palpitations
  • Fast breathing
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Choking sensation
  • Tightness in the chest and throat
  • Trembling of hands, legs, lips, and 
  • Trembling of voice
  •  Cold, clammy and sweaty hands
  • Feeling of butterflies in the stomach, nausea
  • Vision changes

Ways to handle

The best way to learn to swim is to enter the water and make the movement; in the same way, the best way to combat performance anxiety is to enter the anxiety-provoking situation and face it. 

Few tips for handling performance anxiety  

  1. Knowledge – It is said that Knowledge is Power. When you acknowledge and understand your anxiety, it will create less distress by its presence.
  2. Practice – Practice makes us better, if not perfect. Things which create more anxiety when confronted more reduced to impact us.
  3. Knowing the situation – It is always better to know the circumstances beforehand to combat part of anxiety. E.g., if you are going to deliver a talk which will create a lot of pressure, visiting the venue and stage before the actual event will help release a part of anxiety.
  4. Confidence – Knowledge and practice build confidence. The more we acquire, the more confident we become and the less anxiety and distress we get.
  5.  Relaxation – Tension and relaxation cannot co-occur; learning to relax during tense moments will reduce anxiety and enhance performance.
  6. Proper sleep – proper sleep before performance eases the mind, helps maintain better focus and thus less anxiety.
  7. Healthy lifestyle – balanced nutritious diet, regular exercise

When to Consult an Expert

When performance anxiety is severe enough to negatively impact the socio-occupational areas of life, limiting your growth potential and halting your progress, it is time to seek professional help. Other mental health issues can sometimes be associated with performance anxiety, which requires proper attention and management. Seeking help from a professional will increase your knowledge and awareness about the problem, support during difficult times, and help manage the anxiety.

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