Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you didn’t have to deal with that sense of dread every time you’re about to go on stage to deliver a speech, or perform for an audience?
Or perhaps you’re a professional athlete, and you’ve been looking for ways to remain calm under pressure, so you don’t keep missing crucial shots because of the jitters.
Performance anxiety, or stage fright, is a common phenomenon among musicians, actors, speakers, athletes, or anyone else who has to perform at a high level.
The good news is that there are ways that you can fight performance anxiety, so you can remain calm and focused, and perform at your best.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at performance anxiety, what causes it, and how it affects musicians, speakers, actors, and athletes. We’ll also explore some remedies to help you overcome your anxiety symptoms when it’s time for you to hit the stage, or take the field.
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What is performance anxiety?
Performance anxiety (also known as stage fright) is a set of anxiety-like symptoms and thoughts many performers experience when they’re about to go on stage .
You may experience physical symptoms like excessive sweating, trembling, high blood pressure, and more. For some people, it gets to the point where they’re unable to perform at an optimal level.
People who suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD), which is a persistent fear of being judged by others, are more likely to experience performance anxiety .
Stage fright is particularly prevalent among musicians, actors, and public speakers, but you may also experience similar symptoms before a test, an interview, or in a social situation like a party or a first date.
What are the symptoms of performance anxiety?
Performance anxiety symptoms vary depending on the individual, and the causes responsible for their anxiety. It is usually a combination of physical symptoms and fearful thoughts.
- Elevated heart rate
- Higher blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- A strong urge to back out of the performance
- Trembling hands
- Errors in your performance due to nervousness
But it’s not only the physical symptoms when you’re about to perform. You may also have various negative thoughts before and after your performance.
People that suffer from performance-related anxiety tend to be excessively critical of their own performances. They might feel that the audience did not like their performance even in the absence of any clear evidence.
If you regularly experience the following thoughts before/after a performance, you could be suffering from stage fright .
- “No matter how hard I practice, I’ll probably end up making mistakes.”
- “I wish there was a way to avoid the sense of dread I feel before a performance.”
- “People seemed somewhat quiet during my speech. They probably didn’t like it.”
- “I made it through my audition without mistakes, but I just got lucky this time.”
- “There were times during my speech when I wondered if I’d make it through.”
When you experience these mental and physical symptoms, they could cause you to become more anxious, which could then impact your performance. Your sub-optimal performance could lead you to believe your anxiety was warranted all along. This is how performance anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What causes performance anxiety?
As we explained briefly in the previous section, negative thinking patterns may have a lot to do with your performance anxiety symptoms.
If you’ve had a bad experience related to past performances, maybe even during childhood, the fear of that happening again could be the source of your anxiety. You may find the idea of performing, and the potential negative judgment, to be stressful.
Your body’s reaction to that stress may cause several physical symptoms of performance anxiety .
Stress response and performance anxiety symptoms
A little anxiety before a performance is entirely normal. Your heart rate elevates, your focus intensifies, and you may even use the adrenaline spike to your advantage and up your game.
But for people who suffer from performance anxiety, the fear and anxiety go too far. The stress response is severe, and it can lead to many of the physical symptoms of stage fright.
When you’re in a severely stressful situation, your body responds by switching to what is often known as the fight-or-flight mode. It is a physiological reaction triggered by something that you find terrifying, a threat to your mental or physical safety.
The fight-or-flight mode is associated with a spike in stress hormones, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. The stress hormones bind to receptors in the heart which cause it to work with extra force, which leads to many of the symptoms of stage fright like seating, trembling, higher blood pressure, and others .
Negative thinking and performance anxiety
Your negative thought patterns might be at the root of your anxiety. Repeated negative thinking can affect how you view your performing abilities, which could then affect your anxiety levels when it’s time to perform.
You may find that you’re assuming the worst in each possible scenario. Here are some common thoughts among people who suffer from performance anxiety.
- If my performance wasn’t one hundred percent perfect, then it was a complete failure.
- My performance was bad tonight, just like it always is. I will never be a good performer.
- The entire audience noticed my tiny mistake, and they hated my whole speech because of it.
The good news is that there are remedies available (as we’ll discuss below) to help you overcome both the negative thoughts, as well as the anxiety symptoms, so you can remain calm and focus on delivering great performances.
Who is at a higher risk of performance anxiety?
Here are some of the possible factors that could increase your odds of experiencing severe performance anxiety.
History of previous poor performances
If you’ve previously had a bad experience with an audience, the fear of another humiliation could be at the root of your anxiety.
Or maybe you remember a time when you made a bad mistake that cost your team the game. Even some of the best athletes in the world struggle with this occasionally.
Being too much of a perfectionist
If you demand too much perfection from yourself, then you’ll deem anything less than one hundred percent accuracy or success as a failure. The added pressure can exacerbate your stress before a performance.
If you had overcritical parents growing up, or if you were bullied as a child, you may be at a higher risk of social anxiety because of perfectionism.
Not all causes of test anxiety are mental and emotional. Biology can play a role, as well. If specific neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in your nervous system) are out of balance, you’d be at a higher risk of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety .
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one of the neurotransmitters that play a critical role when it comes to social anxiety. GABA reduces the level of activity in your nervous system and promotes alpha waves in your brain, both of which have been proven to increase calmness and relaxation.
The underlying causes and the physiological process of performance anxiety can be similar for all those who experience it. But it still varies in how it affects performers in different professions.
In the next few sections, we’ll take a look at how performance anxiety affects musicians, athletes, actors, and public speakers.
Performance anxiety for musicians
Musicians are one of the groups who are most affected by performance anxiety. Stage fright among musicians is also known as musical performance anxiety (MPA).
The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) conducted a survey of more than 2000 musicians, one of the largest sample sizes to date. They found that a whopping 24 percent of those surveyed suffered from performance anxiety .
The solo performers reported the highest levels of anxiety. Those who were a part of an orchestra said that the audition was most likely to produce anxiety symptoms.
The musicians reported “pressure from self”, “excessive arousal” (adrenaline spike), and “inadequate preparation” to be the three main drivers of anxiety.
27 percent of the respondents to the ICSOM survey also said that they use beta-blockers, a type of pharmaceutical, to combat performance anxiety symptoms.
We’ll take a closer look at beta-blockers below and why it might not be the best solution to performance anxiety. We’ll also delve into natural, healthier, and more effective alternatives.
Another 2006 review by the University of Melbourne found MPA often begins early in the careers of young musicians, and that the characteristics are similar to the experience of adults. The authors concluded that addressing MPA early in young musicians could have a long-lasting preventative effect .
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Performance anxiety for public speakers
You might have heard of the fact that more people list public speaking as their number one phobia, even more than death and end of life.
It is estimated that around three-fourths of the American population suffer from speech anxiety .
You may think professional public speakers are immune to speech anxiety. But that’s not the case.
In her article in Psychology Today, Dr. Vivian Diller Ph.D., talks about her performance anxiety before public speaking engagements, whether it’s for radio, TV, or in front of live audiences .
What’s interesting is that she mentions that she used to be a dancer, a model, and an actress in her 20s, but she rarely ever dealt with stage fright then.
She says public speaking is different. Unlike a choreographed dance, there’s a certain element of uncertainty that often contributes to performance anxiety.
And speech anxiety isn’t only for professional speakers. It can affect you whether you’re giving a best man speech at your friend’s wedding, a presentation on behalf of your team at a client meeting, or a speech in front of your classmates in university.
Performance anxiety for professional athletes
If you’re an amateur, college, or professional athlete, and you’ve been dealing with performance anxiety, you’re definitely not alone.
In fact, there’s an entire division of psychology known as sport psychology geared towards helping athletes like you overcome anxiety to improve their competitive performances.
Harvard Medical School conducted a survey of 756 young athletes, and they found that those engaged in individual sports were more likely to experience anxiety than those in a team sport .
In another article by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the authors state that, if left unchecked, performance anxiety can negatively impact an athlete in various ways.
It can negatively impact their performance both during practice and competition, make them more prone to injury, and even delay the rehabilitation process .
Performance anxiety for actors
Actors are unique when it comes to how they experience performance anxiety. They are not only aware of the possibility of the audience judging them negatively, but also the director and their fellow actors.
In a 2015 Australian study, the researchers found that 28.1 percent of female actors and 23.6 percent of male actors reported experiencing debilitating performance anxiety. One of the unexpected findings in the study was that the more trained the actor, the more he or she was likely to suffer from severe stage fright .
What was more disturbing was that a large percentage of the respondents reported using harmful substances.
37 percent drank alcohol, around 12 percent reported taking antidepressants, and almost 7 percent turned to cocaine, LSD, or ecstasy to fight performance anxiety.
Are there any solutions for performance anxiety?
There are several ways to combat stage fright. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the common ways performers fight performance anxiety.
Some performers turn to beta-blockers to fight performance anxiety
Beta-blockers are a type of pharmaceutical that work by blocking the effects of the adrenaline hormone, which is responsible for the physical symptoms of performance anxiety .
Although beta-blockers like Propranolol & Metoprolol are primarily prescribed for conditions like high blood pressure, chest pains, and irregular heartbeat, many performers take them to fight performance anxiety.
Although beta-blockers can be effective as a quick-fix, they don’t do anything to support your mind or body in the fight against anxiety. They can only temporarily prevent the physical symptoms.
They can also come with unpleasant side-effects, and you run the risk of becoming dependent on them if you take beta-blockers frequently
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address root causes of performance anxiety
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy designed to modify your thoughts in a way that makes the idea of performing less stressful for you .
The goal of CBT is to take something you find overwhelming, like speaking or playing music in front of an audience, and breaking it down into smaller parts.
Your therapist will help you understand the thoughts and emotions that are responsible for your anxiety, and how you can adjust your perceptions about performing in a positive way.
To get started, your therapist will learn as much as possible about you, and your challenges with performance anxiety.
Instead of thinking of a performance as one big event, they might ask you to think of it in smaller pieces. For example, you might only think about the part where up to the podium, or when your teammate hands you the ball when the game is on the line.
The point of the exercise is to help you identify your thoughts associated with each smaller part. It will help you understand how your thought patterns and self-talk can affect you emotionally, and how they might be contributing to your anxiety.
As you go through the process of CBT, your therapist may recommend certain activities or even give you homework. He or she might encourage you to apply some of what you’re learning in real-life situations to start rewiring your brain in a different way.
CBT has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of anxiety disorders, especially in the long term when patients stick with the therapy .
Yoga for better stress response
Yoga can help your fight against performance anxiety by improving how you respond to stress.
Research has shown that yoga increases your heart rate variability (HRV), which is the difference in the time interval between heartbeats. A higher HRV indicates your body’s increased ability to deal with stress .
A regular yoga practice can make you more resilient in stressful situations, and improve how your body reacts to prevent anxiety symptoms like heart palpitations and trembling.
According to an article in Harvard Health, yoga can work as a natural anxiety relief by reducing the impact of an exaggerated stress response, which is precisely what causes stage fright .
Belly breathing for instant relaxation
Belly breathing is the process of taking long breaths in and out of your stomach instead of your chest. A technique taught in most mindfulness practices, it has various benefits such as lowering stress levels, regulating blood pressure, and controlling mind-chatter .
Belly breathing is one technique that you can use before a performance for immediate relief from anxiety symptoms, as it can deactivate your stress response.
PerformZen to promote calmness and focus during your performance
PerformZen is a natural supplement designed to help you remain calm under pressure. If you have a performance, a speech, or a big game coming up, PerformZen will help you calm the nerves and improve your focus, so you can deliver a great performance for your audience, or for your team.
PerformZen works primarily by boosting GABA levels in your brain. As we explained in a previous section, GABA promotes relaxation and calmness, and low levels of GABA have been linked to anxiety.
PerformZen also contains other ingredients that combine with GABA to increase calmness and improve cognitive performance. The natural ingredients support your brain in a way that makes it more resilient and better equipped to handle stress and fight anxiety symptoms.
Here are the ingredients in PerformZen’s calm performance formula
GABA – GABA inhibits activity in your nervous system, and it will weaken your stress response when you’re about to perform . You’ll be able to stop the chatter in your mind, stay calm, and focus on the job at hand.
L-theanine – L-theanine is an amino acid that also promotes calmness and relaxation. What’s more, it has been shown to boost GABA levels in your brain, increasing the potency of PerformZen .
Magnesium – Magnesium is a natural relaxant, and it also helps with absorption of GABA in your body .
Vitamin B6 – When you’re on stage, or about to attempt a 3-pointer, it’s not just about calmness. You need mental focus. Magnesium and Vitamin B6 work together to improve cognitive performance. Vitamin B6 also promotes GABA synthesis in the body .
Theacrine – Theacrine increases energy levels, similar to caffeine but without the jittery ups and downs. So, you get a boost of clean fuel to keep you sharp and on your game through your performance .
Ginkgo Biloba – Ginkgo Biloba can help you manage your stress hormone levels, which keeps your fight-or-flight response under control and prevents the symptoms of performance anxiety .
So it is possible to successfully fight performance anxiety?
If you suffer from performance anxiety, then you already know that it can be detrimental to your quality of life. It can keep you from pursuing the life you want to live, whether it’s as a musician, actor, public speaker, athlete, or any other profession that requires you to remain calm and perform at a high level under pressure.
The good news is that you don’t have to let performance anxiety control your life. Some of the remedies mentioned in this article, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), yoga, and meditation, can make you more resilient against stress and address the root causes of your anxiety.
In the meantime, if you have a performance coming up and you need a fast-acting formula to calm the nerves and keep performance anxiety symptoms at bay, consider giving PerformZen a try.
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