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What is performance anxiety? Causes, symptoms & treatments

Posted on Monday, 06 February 2023, in Anxiety & Stress, Treatments & Therapy

man public speaking


If you're feeling nervous or apprehensive about a performance, know that you're not alone. Performance anxiety is a common issue that affects many people, but it doesn't have to control your life.

Feeling nervous before an event or performance is a feeling that most people can relate to. Whether it's a sporting event, acting or public speaking, it's natural to experience some anxiety. But when these feelings start to impact your career or quality of life, it's time to seek help.


What is performance anxiety?

Performance anxiety is a set of emotions that can be beneficial up to a point, triggering a "fight or flight" response that prepares the body for potential danger, making us more alert and ready to respond. For many, these feelings will subside once the performance starts or shortly after.
But for others, performance anxiety can be extremely limiting, stopping preventing them from pursuing their passions or careers. If this happens, it's important to seek support.


Symptoms of performance anxiety

The number of people who suffer from performance anxiety is unknown, but we know it's a widespread issue, with many people experiencing it at some point in their lives.

The amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for our fear function, triggers a set of chemical reactions that releases adrenaline. This results in a soaring heart rate, dry mouth, and other physical symptoms of performance anxiety, including numbness, trembling hands and voice, sweating, feeling sick, a racing pulse and pounding heart, tight throat, and dry mouth.

Other common symptoms of performance anxiety include dreading the performance, worrying endlessly, and becoming withdrawn,

Unfortunately, many people with performance anxiety do not seek help due to embarrassment or fear of public scrutiny. Some may resort to using drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms.


Treating performance anxiety

For some, pre-performance rituals, deep breathing, and positive visualisation can help overcome nerves. However, talking therapies and medication may be necessary for others with severe performance anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, and counselling can help individuals understand the root cause of their anxiety and fear and provide long-term relief. Talking therapies can also teach coping mechanisms to handle emotions when they arise.

It's important to seek a thorough assessment from a qualified clinician before taking any medications, as there can be severe health implications. Medications that inhibit the impact of adrenaline can be helpful for some, but others may find that the medicines affect the quality of their performance.

If your performance anxiety is starting to impact your quality of life or career, it's time to seek support. There are a variety of effective treatments available, including talking therapies and medication, to help you overcome your nerves and perform confidently.


Read more about our talking therapies options