Feeling apprehensive before a performance, be it sporting, acting or public speaking is perfectly normal and something most, if not all of us, can relate to.
Performance anxiety, to a degree, is a very useful set of emotions in fact; triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response that prepares the body for the danger it perceives, making us more alert and ready to respond.
The anxiety becomes a problem when your career rests on those performances or when it begins to seriously impact on your quality of life.
Performance anxiety is common
Amazingly, 84% of American actors confessed to suffering from performance anxiety1 and when you look at the pressures many performers are under it is no wonder.
Professional performers dedicate their lives to their passion, spending long days rehearsing and honing their skills. They may feel under extreme pressure to excel by the public, their sponsors or themselves.
Clinical Partners have a team of experienced clinicians who can successfully assess and treat Performance Anxiety. To speak to someone about how we can help please call 0203 326 9160.
What causes performance anxiety?
A part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for our fear function. It triggers a set of chemical reactions that results in adrenaline being released. It is this adrenaline that sets our heart rate soaring and gives us the dry mouth so common with performance anxiety and stage fright.
What is interesting is that performers can suffer with no symptoms and then seemingly, for no reason, begin to feel extremely nervous before a performance, which can have a serious impact on their ability to perform. Often performance anxiety is started by one, relatively small, bad experience which the brain then ‘learns’ to be fearful of. A pattern of negative associations is formed which is incredibly hard to conquer.
The common performance anxiety symptoms are:
- Dreading the performance, worrying endlessly about it
- Becoming numbed, distant and withdrawn
- Trembling hands and voice
- Feeling sick or having stomach cramps
- A racing pulse and pounding heart
- Tightness in the throat which can hinder talking
- A dry mouth
Perhaps because it is so normal to feel anxious before a performance, people with performance anxiety often do not seek help. They may feel embarrassed and that they should be able to cope. If their career is based around performing they may not want to make others aware of their condition for fear of public scrutiny or appearing ‘weak’ in front of others.
What can be done to help performance anxiety?
For some people techniques such as pre-performance rituals, deep breathing and imagining their performance in a positive light can all be really helpful in overcoming nerves. For other people with severe performance anxiety, talking therapies and medication might be needed.
CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), psychotherapy and counselling can all be really useful in understanding the root causes for the anxiety and fear. This can help give long term relief from the performance anxiety symptoms. Talking therapies can also help teach coping mechanisms as a way of handling the emotions when they arise. Click here to read more about talking therapies for anxiety.
Some people benefit from medications that help inhibit the impact of the adrenaline that is triggered, although others report that the medications affect the quality of their performance, turning them into ‘zombies’. For some professionals taking medications is considered cheating and therefore not an option they are willing to take. As medication only really controls the physical symptoms of performance anxiety, the sufferer is still left with the emotions of fear and dread.
It is really important to get a full and thorough assessment from a qualified clinician before taking any medications as there can be severe health implications for certain medications used. Click here to read more about medications used for anxiety.
Clinical Partners are able to find you the best clinician to work with to help overcome your performance anxiety.
Clinical Partners offers completely confidential performance anxiety therapy, help and advice.
We have a nationwide team of over 160 clinicians, many of whom have years of experience helping people overcome anxiety disorders. Appointments can often be made within a few days and you do not need a GP referral.
If you would like to talk, free of charge, about booking a private assessment for Performance Anxiety please call 0203 326 9160.
1 Solovitch, S Anatomy of stage fright Prospect Magazine June 2015