Performance Anxiety: Dealing with the Pre-Competition Jitters
“You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” —Wayne Dyer
Many times we find ourselves in situations where we suddenly become too anxious to do things we normally could do with our eyes closed. Right in the heart of your performance you blank out and can’t remember the words to your school play or can’t seem to find the words to begin your presentation at the office, or feel your body going numb before your big game. Let’s briefly talk about what performance anxiety is, and how you can manage it.
What Is Performance Anxiety?
Performance anxiety is overwhelming worry and panic an individual feels at the thought of giving a performance or being evaluated in some way. It’s very common, in fact you may felt it at some point. It can be experienced it in the moment, or you may carry constant worry about being evaluated, even when there is no specific event. Performance anxiety can occur at work, during an interview, when you’re on stage, during a game, and in many other life scenarios.
At work, you can experience performance anxiety when you feel that other coworkers or superiors judge your performance. It can also occur when you’re about to perform in front of a crowd (also known as “stage fright”.) Athletes also suffer performance anxiety when they have an upcoming game. Or the dread you might feel about going to a party alone where you’ll be meeting new people
It’s not “All in Your Head” – How to Recognize Performance Anxiety
Many people think that performance anxiety only manifests psychologically or cognitively. The truth is, it could present itself in a blend of psychological and physical symptoms. You could experience:
- Increased heart rate
- Sweaty palms, dry mouth, trembling hands, blurred vision
- Anger and irritability
- Lack of productivity
- Low self-confidence
- Negative self-talk
Now, just to clarify, we need a little bit of anxiety before a performance or an event. If we didn’t have any, we would be a puddle on the floor. So we strive for just the amount of physiological and psychological arousal that can lead to optimal performance. If you’re feeling any of these symptoms in excess before your big game, right after a promotion (worry thoughts about your new role), at a competition, at a dance performance, what then, should you do?
Coping Techniques for Performance Anxiety
Performance anxiety comes with flight or fight response that leaves you feeling uncertain about how well you are doing instead of focusing on the current situation. It also makes you perform less confidently and hinders you from doing things you ordinarily can do and may be very good at; things you enjoy. It can also affect your self-confidence and self-esteem.
There are many scientifically shown ways to successfully cope with performance anxiety:
- Challenge negative thoughts that fill your head when you are anxious. Ask yourself, is this a useful thought? Focus on what you can control and will go right and not what you can’t control or could go wrong.
- Use imagery or visualization to mentally rehearse (in excruciating detail) all the aspects of your performance. From the moment you awaken on the day of the big competition. For example, what will you eat for breakfast, how you will get to the venue, then imagine yourself successfully executing your race, presentation, or other event.
- Use relaxation techniques (that I have written about in previous blogs), to lower your basal levels of anxiety. If your basal levels are lower, it will take more to physiologically jack you up. Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindful meditation, diaphragmatic breathing have shown to reduce anxiety.
Speaking to a therapist can help you navigate your struggles with performance anxiety. Check out my website for more information or search for therapists in your geographic area that specialize in performance anxiety.