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Understanding Performance Anxiety


test anxiety, work presentation, social situation

In today's fast-paced world, the pressure to perform can sometimes feel sooooo overwhelming. Whether it's giving a presentation at work, speaking in public, or even just meeting new people, the fear of not meeting expectations can be paralyzing. If you've ever felt this way, you're not alone. Let's dive into the world of performance anxiety, understand its symptoms, and explore ways to manage and overcome it.


What is Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety, commonly referred to as "stage fright" in some instances, is a type of anxiety that occurs when you are faced with a situation in which you feel that you must perform at your very best. Perform is a broad term for situations such as: presentation, party, public speaking, game day, and more. It's the fear of failing, being judged, or not meeting the expectations of yourself or others in these situations. This anxiety isn't just limited to artists or performers; it can affect anyone in various situations like work and schoolwork.


Symptoms of Performance Anxiety

You have experienced symptoms of performance anxiety, however, recognizing the signs of performance anxiety is the first step toward addressing it. Common symptoms include:

  • Physical Symptoms: Rapid heartbeat, trembling hands or voice, dry mouth, nausea, muscle tension, and excessive sweating.

  • Emotional Symptoms: Intense fear or worry, feelings of panic, dread, or terror.

  • Cognitive Symptoms: Racing thoughts, blanking out, or negative self-talk.

  • Behavioral Symptoms: Avoidance of situations, excessive rehearsing, or over-preparation.


Common Situations for Performance Anxiety

While performance anxiety can strike in any situation, here are some common scenarios where adults often feel its effects:

  • Work Presentations: The fear of speaking in front of colleagues, superiors, and even outside stakeholders.

  • Public Speaking: Addressing an audience or giving a speech, no matter how small or large the attendance is.

  • Social Gatherings: Meeting new people or attending social events.

  • Exams + Tests: Taking tests or exams, especially in higher education.

  • Athletic Events: Competing in sports or other physical activities.


Strategies to Reduce Performance Anxiety

Overcoming performance anxiety requires a combination of mental, emotional, and physical strategies. Here are some effective techniques:

  • Preparation: Familiarize yourself with the material or task at hand.

  • Deep Breathing: Slow, deep breaths can calm the nervous system. Start this practice well before the situation, especially in calm situations so it is easier to do in the stressful situation.

  • Visualization: Imagine yourself succeeding and performing well. Although you cannot predict the environment or how the situation may exactly go, this can help reduce the stress heading into it.

  • Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Even a little “I got this” goes a long way.

  • Grounding Techniques: Techniques like the "5-4-3-2-1" method can help you stay present. Grounding techniques are meant to bring you back to the moment and not feel like you are ten steps ahead of yourself.

  • Limit Caffeine and Sugar: These can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, especially heading into the situation. This can be the same with consuming alcohol before the situation. Though it relaxes us and lowers our inhibitions, it can also cause anxiety with not feeling as in control.

  • Seek Support: Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, whether this is a colleague, friends, classmate, or therapist.


How Can a Therapist Help with My Performance Anxiety?

Therapists are trained professionals who can provide guidance, support, and coping strategies tailored to your unique situation. Here's how they can assist:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach helps identify and challenge negative thought patterns, replacing them with healthier beliefs.

  • Exposure Therapy: Gradually and safely confronting the situations that cause anxiety can reduce its intensity over time.

  • Relaxation Techniques: Therapists can teach methods like progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.

  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be recommended to manage severe symptoms. Though a therapist is unable to prescribe, they can discuss medication as an option and help with the referral process to a psychiatrist/prescriber.

  • Support and Understanding: Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can make all the difference.


Performance anxiety is a common challenge faced by many adults. However, with understanding, self-awareness, and the right strategies, it's possible to navigate these feelings and perform at your best. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. You're not alone in this journey, and there's a world of support waiting for you.



Looking for a therapist to help with performance anxiety? Discover the convenience of online therapy with Better Minds Counseling & Services. We specialize in assisting adults with anxiety through our virtual mental health solutions. Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP, a certified clinical anxiety treatment expert and licensed professional counselor, is ready to help you reduce the performance anxiety that is holding you back! Schedule your free introductory session with her today!



Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.


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