Situations where you feel pressure to perform your best or you are worried about your ability can cause ‘performance anxiety’. This can include many different situations and will differ greatly for each individual. For example speaking in front of crowds, giving presentations, a sports competition, taking an exam, or even sex can cause performance anxiety. As you enter this stressful situation your body reacts as if it were in a dangerous situation, it enters ‘fight or flight’ mode. This causes symptoms such as increased rate of breathing, increased heart rate, sweaty hands, and trembling, symptoms of anxiety. When the anxiety becomes overwhelming it can affect your performance!
Unless you perform very regularly being a little nervous before a performance is actually completely normal, in fact in a poll it was found that around 40% of Americans suffer from some degree of performance anxiety. A study in the Netherlands on graduate students found that 24% of all students in the Netherlands suffered from some form of performance anxiety.’ So you are not alone!
Performance anxiety can prevent you from doing something you enjoy, progressing your career, and can dent your self-confidence. So it is important to learn to manage and cope with this anxiety. Overcoming your fears can be greatly empowering, it will improve your confidence and make you feel better about yourself.
How to manage performance anxiety?
- Distract yourself before the performance. The worst of the anxiety is usually just before the performance, in anticipation. Therefore, keep yourself occupied so you are not thinking about it too much. There are also many relaxation techniques you can use which help you to keep calm. It is worth remembering that the anxiety usually quickly disappears once you have started.
- Practise! If you have practised well and have most of the performance memorized it will come to you automatically, despite your nerves. This is particularly important for the start, as mentioned previously the height of the anxiety will be near the start so if this goes smoothly, your anxiety will decrease quickly. Make the start as easy as possible! If possible practise in a similar situation you will be performing in, this will help you feel more comfortable and familiar with the pressure when you have to perform for real.
- Try to remain positive. Instead of focussing on the negative try to envisage your success and the feeling after the performance goes well. Try not to focus on yourself and ruminate in self-doubt instead challenge these thoughts.
- Practise mindfulness techniques. Try to focus on the performance itself. Evaluating and critiquing our performance often ends up hurting our performance, save this for afterwards. Mindfulness involves living in the moment, and setting aside negative thoughts and feelings. Sexually this might mean focusing on the pleasurable sensations and any positive emotions such as excitement and intimacy.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar consumption – caffeine and sugar can increase our anxiety and therefore it is good to avoid these before a performance you are nervous about. Eat a healthy, filling meal a few hours before the performance so you don’t get hungry, and are sufficiently energized.
Are you struggling with performance anxiety? Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. We are here to help.