Performance Anxiety Cardiff
Most performers have experienced performance anxiety at some point in their careers. When that “big” opportunity comes along to shine and demonstrate your knowledge, talents and skills, it can be normal to get the “jitters” leading up to and during your performance. Some nervousness is not always a bad thing; it encourages a state of readiness and alertness.
But performance anxiety can devastate the careers of some of the most competent performers. When it is persistent and overwhelming, your own mind can rob you of the endless preparation from which you have passionately dedicated your performing life. For some of you, performance anxiety can adversely suffocate those life-changing, testing situations that seem to fall into your lap once in a while. You plan, rehearse (and revise) for the big day, but find that your anxiety can destroy what you were doing so perfectly whilst practicing just hours or days earlier.
Managing your fear is an essential part of being able to “nail it” in your performance. When you can control your anxiety and the associated symptoms, you are free to demonstrate your creative abilities.
What is performance anxiety?
- As a performer, it can be defined as your perceived conflict between the demands of the performance situation and your ability to meet those demands.
- Performance anxiety is the overwhelming negative mental, emotional and physical response prompted in a performer when performing.
- It can be experienced in anticipation of, or during a performance to a given audience (or potential audience if you are making a recording).
- The heightened negative state of arousal provokes a distressing response that limits or undermines the ability to accomplish the performance in the desired manner.
- The anxiety can affect you in various ways e.g. hand tremors, nausea, muscular tension, petrification etc. are just some of the unwanted symptoms that you can experience.
- Unfortunately, the part (or organ) commonly affected by the anxiety is the part primarily used in your performanceg. singers may find that their voice is distorted or musicians will tense up their hands (or their lips/embouchure etc. depending on the instrument played.)
- Your performance anxiety may be part of a deeper social anxiety trait characterised by shyness, fear of embarrassment, negative social attention and social criticism. Essentially you are preoccupied with what others are thinking about you and this becomes more severe when a certain audience-type is observing you e.g. a competitor. (But not all anxious performers have social anxiety.)
Who is affected by performance anxiety?
Performance anxiety can be experienced by anyone. Even the most competent performers can accumulate a few “bad experiences” and the way that you react to it can alter how you function in your future performances.
- Performing artists and other professionals – You are passionate about expressing your creativity on a day to day basis. You thrive on communicating your chosen art form, but when you develop performance anxiety, it annihilates your spirit and destroys the essence of who you are. Actors, dancers, musicians, singers, comedians, entertainers, athletes, politicians, lecturers and professional speakers are included in this category.
- Professionals who want to promote themselves – The success of your profession has brought you into the limelight. Your followers request your presence to personally share your expertise. Going on “stage” was not your intended path; it has arrived and now you need to make a decision: confront your fear or hide in the shadows of your potential success. Teachers, writers, lawyers, managers, doctors, engineers and architects are included in this category.
- Occasional “performers” – You are aware of your performance anxiety but you keep the subject-matter hidden from your peers. You are ashamed to admit it because the issue creates a mass of insecurity. Work requests a presentation from you, but you cleverly manage to avoid it or you delegate it to other subordinate staff. You may be required to speak at an informal occasion now and again e.g. a wedding, or sports presentation, and this is where your avoidance finally catches up with you. Years can go by when all is quiet on the performance front, but when the situation comes knocking at your door, you want to pretend that nobody is in! Avoidance can leak into those informal situations and take you by surprise e.g. with sexual performance anxiety or during in an interview.
- Anxious “avoiders” – You have known from a very young age that you struggle with social attention and social embarrassment. Your chosen career and social pursuits keep you safe from the threat of being on stage. You know how to avoid these situations and can aggressively refuse the opportunity if it is demanded of you. You may have let down some people close to you e.g. when refusing to give a best man’s speech. You regret not having developed the skills and courage to deal with those special occasions.
Types of performance anxiety
Performance anxiety is broadly categorised as a type of social anxiety, but not all performers have social anxiety. As a performer, even without social anxiety your own personal traits can work against you in situations when you are need to perform e.g. when you are a perfectionist.
Performance anxiety can be placed into three broad categories (with some overlap):
1.Cognitive performance anxiety,
2.Social performance anxiety and
3.Skills (or motor) performance anxiety.
- Cognitive performance anxiety
This category is defined as the anxiety experienced when using previously learned knowledge and applying it to a specific situation such as a written test or exam in school, college or in your profession. All categories of performance anxiety involve a level of cognitive functioning, but this category considers the use of internal “mind” processes that are usually then written or typed in a time-restricted situation.
Unlike the majority of the situations in the other categories of performance anxiety, there may not be an immediate “audience” in this situation. However, the consequences of the exam could become known to a potential audience e.g. your peer group will know about your grade at a later stage.
Test and exams are the common assessment methods to establish levels of academic competence in school, further and higher education, and employment. The higher the grade, the more likely you will gain entrance into your choice of university and advance your chosen career; exams undoubtedly have a high level of cultural importance.
So what turns the exam into a performance anxiety situation?
Anticipatory (or pre-exam) anxiety – This affects you hours, days or weeks before the big day. It can include issues like whether you have done enough revision, will be able to recall the information on the day or will have the right (or wrong!) questions appearing in the exam. You then worry about the consequences of failing and how this will affect your future career.
Managing anticipatory anxiety is an issue in itself. You have to suspend your ability to deal with something and get it out of the way now because the event takes place in the near future. Anticipatory anxiety tends to fool your mind into believing that you will have a catastrophe e.g. sleep-in and miss your morning exam, have a “mind-blank” or panic attack that numbs your mind for the whole duration. Known stress-related symptoms e.g. insomnia, IBS, nausea can also be added into the overall fear of what might negatively affect the big day.
Anticipatory anxiety also builds up your worry and physical tension levels to such a degree that by the time you get to the exam day, you feel exhausted. High anxiety can also negatively distort your clear thinking; it predisposes you to exaggerate the things that could go wrong.
Mid-exam stress/anxiety – You arrive in the exam room and the “fight or flight” mode kicks-in. Having too much adrenaline can stifle your thinking, concentration, understanding, recall and problem-solving abilities. You worry about how the next couple of hours will go, how you can manage your time, and the implications of your unsuccessful exam performance.
Post exam anxiety – “Pens down!” and that’s it, it’s over! Did you interpret that question correctly? Did you forget some of the answers to question 5? Should you discuss with your peers how others have answered it? Or look at your class notes just to ease your mind? What if you haven’t done enough? How will it affect your application or job prospect if you have failed? How long do you have to wait before you know the outcome? These are the common anxious post-exam questions that the student will ruminate over. This accumulates the anxiety into your next exam or series of exams.
Medical background and personality traits – Certain medical conditions, personality types and attitudes can affect your cognitive performance anxiety. If you suffer with general anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, you are likely to be overwhelmed by the whole exam process.
Your personality traits, values and situation can also affect how you perceive doing exams. They can include:
- Being self-critical.
- Using exam grades as markers for your self-esteem. This can increase the pressure of achieving high grades.
- Having unrealistic expectations.
- A fear of failure.
- Low motivation.
- Low self confidence.
- Being in fear of judgements from your family and peer group.
- Poor study and exam skills. As the pressure mounts, you can overload your timetable of study with little attention to balancing lifestyle habits (diet, sleep, rest and exercise) inhibiting your learning potential, recall and concentration abilities in the exam.
- Even teachers who are aiming to motivate their students can inadvertently inflict fear (and thus more stress) onto their students. Rather than the highlighting the benefits of passing, teachers may project your mind onto the consequences of failing by saying that “if you don’t pass your exams, you won’t get into University!” A reason for doing this can be because a teacher’s effectiveness is often based on high student outcomes.
- Social performance anxiety
Social performance anxiety is the anxiety experienced when performing or communicating in a social situation. Social performance anxiety is intensified by general anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder (social phobia).
With social performance anxiety, you are externally focused on the reactions of others. Typically, you are preoccupied with the belief that your audience is criticising, judging or rejecting you in some way. What you say or do (or don’t say or do) has the effect of drawing unwanted attention, generating feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, insecurity and worthlessness. You can become preoccupied with your own anxiety symptoms (e.g. panic attacks, blushing, stammering and physical tension) disrupting how you want to communicate with your audience. You believe that these anxiety symptoms make you “visible” to them and incapable of achieving the high standards you want, or of those expected of you. Anticipation of the event can trigger anxiety for weeks or sometimes months ahead of the situation.
Social performance anxiety can be divided into two areas:
- Formal social performance anxiety can be defined as the anxiety experienced when you are required to present (usually rehearsed and structured) information to an audience.
- Informal social performance anxiety can be defined as the anxiety experienced when you are required to communicate socially (either verbally or non-verbally) with your audience.
- Formal social performance anxiety
Formal social performance anxiety usually involves presenting rehearsed (or sometimes spontaneous) content to an audience without their active participation in the situation (i.e. only you are required to speak to your audience). It can also include interactive formal situations where you and what you present are the focus of the situation but the audience are required to respond/interact with you in some way e.g. when teaching or being interviewed.
With rehearsed content, formal social performance anxiety often involves a number of preparatory stages including: researching your content; organising it into a coherent and logical structure; learning, rehearsing and memorising the content; considering any stage management issues and use of visual aids; taking into account any situational and personal limitations, and of course, managing your performance anxiety on the day.
Some common examples include:
- Public speaking – speaking at a formal dinner, funeral or in a courtroom (as a lawyer or witness giving evidence)
- Presentations – promoting yourself/your business, or speaking as part of a school class or college assessment
- Stage performances – acting in a theatre production or making announcements in a school assembly
- Lectures – giving a formal lecture to students or other professionals in your niche
- Speeches – speaking at a wedding or special occasion
- Interviews – identifying typical questions that you will be asked and rehearsing the most appropriate answers ready for the interview
- Oral exams – being assessed in language exams or discussing your thesis (viva voce)
- Meetings – Speaking, presenting or chairing formal meetings at work or for an organisation
- Singing – Being examined giving a solo vocal performance or as a part of a band in front of an audience
- Selling or sales performance – The pressure of achieving your sales targets can affect your selling technique
- Informal social performance anxiety
Informal social performance anxiety involves an interactive exchange of talking, listening and reacting to your audience. This situation can include communicating to one person, a group or a much larger audience. The situation is spontaneous and for many, it is more socially demanding; you believe that you can only deal with it when you get there and thus are required to “think on your feet”.
Those who “hide” behind excessive preparation as a way of managing social anxiety in formal situations can struggle with the impromptu nature of these informal situations.
Some common examples include:
- Meeting new people and making polite conversation
- Attending parties or large social occasions
- Being criticised or teased
- Talking to important people or authority figures e.g. teachers, bosses, police officers
- Going on a date or chatting someone up
- Making an important phone call when in the presence of others or when you are alone
In some (more formal) informal social performance anxiety situations, you want to speak or are required to speak without much time to prepare your answer. There is a momentary “spike” in your anxiety which diminishes when you have finished.
Some examples include:
- Participating in role-play as part of work-based development training
- Asking/answering a question in class and worrying that you may get the answer wrong
- Introducing yourself or speaking up in a work meeting
- Ordering food in a restaurant
- Answering unrehearsed questions at the end of a presentation, meeting or interview
- Asking for help – asking for directions when you are lost
- Dealing with conflict – dealing with aggressive people
Informal social performance anxiety can also involve doing common day-to-day obligations that might “put you in the spotlight” and become the focus of attention in social situations.
- Being observed whilst eating, drinking, learning, writing or working
- Walking into a room full of peopleg. a party or classroom
- Arriving late or having to leave early from a meeting
- Leaving a cinema or theatre to go to the toilet
- Doing something that draws attention to you e.g. sneezing, coughing etc. in a lecture room
- Shopping – feeling visible to other shoppers or sales staff
- Having your photo taken or being videoed
- Using a public toilet – feeling so self conscious in the toilet that your bodily functions become affected e.g. you develop shy bladder or feel constipated
- Being stared at when walking past a group of people
- Making eye contact with people in general
- Motor (or skills) performance anxiety
Motor-based (or skills) performance anxiety is the anxiety experienced when physically moving or demonstrating learned (behavioural) skills in front of an audience. The anxiety can also be experienced when performing to a potential audience i.e. when you are being videoed.
As with the other types of performance anxiety, you can experience symptoms for many weeks leading up to the actual performance. The anxiety can affect you during practise or training sessions. It can also affect you when you are away from practise (i.e. when worrying).
The term “motor” performance anxiety is a Latin term from the word movēre. It refers to movement (rather than something exclusively related to cars!) As with the other previous types of performance anxiety, motor performance anxiety can be intensified by general anxiety and social anxiety disorder.
Motor (or skills) performance anxiety can be divided into two areas:
- Formal motor performance anxiety affects your ability to demonstrate rehearsed “skills” in front of an audience. The skills can be applied in a “closed” or set routine. Or the skills can be performed in an “open” field of play when responding to how others are performing (with you or against you).
- Informal motor performance anxiety affects your ability to demonstrate everyday physical skills, tasks and movement in more casual and social situations.
Formal motor performance anxiety
Formal motor performance anxiety situations can include those situations in which you are taught or coached in training sessions (lessons) leading up to the actual performance. The anxiety usually accumulates as the day of the performance beckons, heightening your physical tension levels and affecting the fluency of your skills. It may peak immediately before or as you start your performance. There may also be specific parts of the performance that are perceived as more difficult/pressured and more likely to force an error. In turn, you believe that the mistake will draw more negative attention e.g. when missing a penalty kick that knocks you out of the cup tournament. Additionally, you may be fearful of your ability to recover during the performance if something were to go dreadfully wrong e.g. having a sustained panic attack or show of nerves during a performance could destroy your reputation!
The anxiety can be associated with any audience members, including a future audience when making a video. They can include your managers, teaching or coaching staff, peers (other team members), the opposition, the general audience/spectators, clients, examiners etc. The audience do not have to be present to generate anxiety; what you tell your future audience (family, peer group or colleagues) about the negative outcome can be a continuous preoccupation during the performance; “what will they think of me?”
As with the other types of performance anxiety, the part of your body that is primarily used in the performance e.g. the hands when playing an instrument, can become excessively tense, dysfunctional and prone to “locking” when compared to how it is freely used during practise.
Some examples of formal motor performance anxiety include:
- Musical (instrumental) performances – This includes the precise bi-lateral coordination of the arms, hands and fingers used to play instruments (and legs e.g. when playing a drum kit). Woodwind and brass instruments also require the synchronised use of breath and embouchure to create a harmonised sound.
- Dance performances – Any sequence of rehearsed rhythmical movements that can be mistimed, forgotten or petrified e.g. ballet, tap dancing, modern etc.
- Skilled stage entertainment – This can include circus acts, magic shows, physical comedy (slapstick, clowning and mime) etc.
- Practical lectures/presentations/demonstrations – This includes live visual illustration of artistic, creative and educational skills e.g. during cookery demonstrations, when teaching mechanical skills etc.
- Medical skills – This includes training in hospital wards, clinics or theatre. Skills can include injections, dressing wounds, manipulations, surgical operations etc.
- Sports performance – This includes any sporting situations with the performance of “closed” skills e.g. throwing darts, shooting at a goal in ball sports, shooting with a rifle, taking a penalty, potting a ball in snooker, golf strokes, serving in tennis, field events in athletics. Or anxiety experienced during “open” match play e.g. tackling, defending, dribbling, sparring, running etc.
- Driving test – Passing your driving test is your ticket to being mobile and boosts certain job opportunities. The driving test can expose hidden skills-based performance anxiety in a one-off situation that you may have avoided in other parts of your “performing” life. Your driving instructor may be unaware of its severity in driving lessons until you have failed your test (maybe several times).
- Practical exams – This includes being practically assessed with a time limit in any vocational course e.g. hairdressing, car mechanics, electrician, plumbing etc. A catastrophe in your exam can throw away one of two years of study when anxiety takes hold of your performance.
- Practical interviews – As with practical exams, you may be required to solve a timed practical problem with very little notice to prepare e.g. build a bridge that can support a small weight using only 5 sheets of paper.
Informal motor performance anxiety
Informal motor performance anxiety situations can include those situations which are spontaneous, casual and may not require a (perceived) rehearsed skill; you may believe (because of social expectation or fear of embarrassment) that you just ought to be able to perform the task perfectly in the given situation.
As with other types of performance anxiety, the physical tension accumulates and can peak just before or during the situation. You can also be overwhelmed with your physical anxiety symptoms and they can preoccupy you, affecting your ability to concentrate on the desired task.
How you perceive your audience can affect the level of your anxiety. It can be higher with a larger audience, or because some of the specific members of the audience are considered important or more threatening e.g. your competitor is in the audience. But even with fewer individuals in your audience, your perceived relationship with them can vary the intensity and timing of your anxiety. For example:
- You may know them well and trust them as is often the case with family and close friends.
- You may know them to some degree, but may not see them for some time, leaving you unsure of their opinion of you, as can be the case with colleagues or other members of a club.
- You may not know them at all and are unable to judge their response.
You can assume that the more you know them, the safer you feel, but this isn’t always the case. Some people feel more embarrassed in front of their family performing certain tasks. And for some people, performing in front of strangers can feel safer than group (ii) because you don’t care about them. With group (ii) you have to confront them again at some later stage and it’s that period of time where you are left worrying about their opinion that causes the embarrassment to fester. “What will they say to you when you see them next?!!”
Some examples of informal motor performance anxiety can include:
- Sexual performance – Conditions like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and delayed ejaculation for men can be influenced by anxiety. Anxiety can also affect women’s sexual arousal with conditions like vaginismus, low sex drive and inorgasmia.
- Practical training days at work – Role-plays are a common training activity that is used to demonstrate the learning of work-related skills. Without the ability to prepare your “presentation script” and identify what each role-play is about, role-plays remain an embarrassing dread for many employees and employers.
- Trading stress – Making calculated risks when you are facing volatile and uncertain markets can leave the trader feeling petrified when it comes to hitting the “BUY NOW!” button. You can lose sight of your formulaic strategies when your capital is dwindling.
- Exercising at the gym – When joining a gym or a new exercise class, wanting to look fit and coordinated so that you can blend in with the crowd can take a few sessions. For some fitness novices, the embarrassment of standing out from the crowd is too high. You muster the courage to join the health club and then the anxiety takes over and the attendance level suddenly drops!
- Being watched whilst eating, drinking, writing, cooking, and driving – These are common daily activities that can draw social attention when your anxiety symptoms inhibit the activity in some way e.g. a shaking hand can stop you writing or a fear of choking can stop you eating or drinking in public.
- Being observed when working – When you are moved into an open style office from a private office, you can feel self-conscious when making phone calls or feel visible when struggling with difficult new work task.
- Writer’s or any creator’s block – Completing your book, assignment, project, song, composition, work of art, order etc. for a client/customer or future audience can be obstructed by your perfectionism or deadline stress. Your creative ideas are suppressed by your stressed mind when you are anxious and functioning in “urgency” mode.
- Operating an unfamiliar device in public – This can include using vending machines, self-service ticket machines, self-service tills or obtaining a parking voucher from a meter. Not knowing how to operate these (sometimes faulty) machines and being too embarrassed to ask for help, is a common reason to avoid using them. Knowing that you have a long queue of people behind you just adds to the pressure.
- Using a public toilet – Bladder shyness or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be distressing for the sufferer. You may avoid drinking or eating certain foods or avoid certain social situations depending on the location and layout of the public toilet. When you need to use the toilet, you fear “clamping” your bladder or being constipated. With anxiety-related IBS, being anxious about messing up the toilet with diarrhoea can just make the symptoms worse.
- Walking or being out in public – When you are agoraphobic, just leaving your home is traumatic. You fear having a panic attack in a public place. When you are away from the “safety” of your home, you feel constantly visible and fearful of your own panic attack response.
What causes performance anxiety?
The causes of performance anxiety are related to the causes of social anxiety disorder.
Biological factors – With social anxiety, the part of the brain responsible for regulating the “fight or flight” centre (the amygdala) is active when confronting social situations. This neurological response exaggerates your perceived threat from those people in the social situation. With social anxiety, it’s as if your brain is registering those people present are about to attack you.
There is a genetic factor also linked to social anxiety indicating a possible brain structure and chromosome that can be inherited from your parents.
Socio-psychological factors – The development of social anxiety can be influenced by child-parent interactions. This can happen when a parent (or both parents) with social anxiety encourage social inhibition rather than teaching a child social confidence skills. The developing child can also imitate the parents’ anxious behaviour when the child observes (models) how the parents interact with other people.
Away from one’s parents, the shy developing child can struggle to confront new situations and unfamiliar people. They display a range of insecure and anxious behaviour that researchers define as “Behavioural inhibition”. A child that displays behavioural inhibition is more likely to develop a social phobia.
Traumas such as bullying, social neglect and major social changes e.g. moving schools or a family bereavement can impact on the growing child’s social development. Observing social embarrassment or humiliation towards your peers (or being the focus of it) can further reinforce social anxiety particularly during adolescence. These embarrassing situations traumatise the individual to excessively fear the judgements of others particularly when you need to “perform” (in whatever context) in front of your audience.
Adolescent children can recognise that the degree of social threat in many social situations is irrational, yet you can feel overwhelmed by your anxiety symptoms, avoidance behaviour and feelings of inferiority (it ultimately affects your self-esteem). Some adolescent children can attempt to mask your social anxiety, displaying anger as an alternative way of (not) coping.
By adulthood, many life choices will have been determined by social anxiety. For example, social situations, relationships, exams, hobbies, occupational preferences, promotional prospects etc. can all be limited by the level of perceived social anxiety (or overwhelming social responsibility in the new role or situation). But the socially anxious person can still deny the existence of your condition by disguising your anxiety with superficial excuses for not participating e.g. “I’m not feeling well”, “I’m too busy!” or “It will probably fail, so there’s no point trying!” are common self-limiting coping mechanisms.
Having disguised the social anxiety for much of your life, the threat of say a public speaking obligation in adulthood can expose the need to finally admit that you struggle with it or have the condition (as a specific issue or general disorder or phobia). Avoidance is no longer an option.
What are the common performance anxiety symptoms?
Performance anxiety symptoms are not just experienced during the performance; they can be experienced weeks leading up to it. Even after the performance, the negative interpretation of the experience accumulates the “alertness” in preparation for the next one.
There are 4 categories of performance anxiety symptoms:
- Cognitive, 2. Physical, 3. Behavioural and 4. Emotional
1. Cognitive performance anxiety symptoms relate to your thoughts and beliefs. They can include:
- Negative self image e.g. “I don’t think I’m good enough to do this!”
- Rejecting compliments/praise e.g. “They didn’t mean that; they are only saying this to make me feel good!”
- Negative self evaluation e.g. “I’m really messing this up!”
- High self expectations e.g. “I have to make this perfect!”
- Self blame/responsibility e.g. “I’m going to let the whole team down!”
- Catastrophic thinking e.g. “If this goes wrong my reputation is ruined!”
- Superstitious beliefs e.g. “I fail when I have morning exams!”
- Over-generalising e.g. “Everyone thinks that I’m not capable!”
2. Physical performance anxiety symptoms relate to how parts of your body are affected by the “fight or flight” response. The part that you consider to be the most important for the success of your performance can be the part that is most affected by anxiety.
You can be preoccupied with your anxiety or panic attack symptoms to the extent that you (or your symptoms) are believed to be visible to your audience. Your anxiety symptoms can also dominate your attention, causing you to lose concentration, make mistakes, have memory lapses, become petrified etc.
Symptoms can include:
- Severe muscle tension, spasm, locking or trembling
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Laboured, rapid and shallow breathing
- Rapid heartbeat that feels like it is pounding, irregular or fluttering
- Stammering or a strained choking voice that can sound weak, high pitched and shaky
- Increased sweating and feeling of hotness (or coldness)
- A knotted stomach or feeling of butterflies
- Frequent urination
- Cramped “gurgling” digestion, upset stomach and nervous diarrhoea
- Feeling nauseous, light-headed, dizzy and distracted
- Blushing, hot flashes or chills
- Dry mouth
- An exaggerated startle response
- Disturbed sleep and fatigue
3. Behavioural performance anxiety symptoms relate to how you attempt to cope with your anxiety symptoms. It generally reflects what you do (or don’t do) leading up to the performance. Ironically, many of these activities make the anxiety worse in the long term.
Symptoms can include:
- Avoidance behaviour – You avoid individual practises because it reminds you of the anxiety. But in addition to avoiding activities, it can also include avoiding peopleg. seeing those people who are likely to ask about the performance and create further fear or guilt for not attending. Or it can include avoiding situations e.g. training days.
- Withdrawal – this is similar to avoidance, you may isolate yourself from social interaction and stay housebound. This is because your anxiety is generally affecting your sociability; you don’t want to inflict your worries on anyone.
- Perfectionism – you may over-practise certain parts of performance creating fatigue and then lose the awareness of other important issues in your life such as your health or relationships.
- Procrastination – you participate in “pleasant” non-related performance activities to justify that you are busy e.g. cleaning and tidying, but in reality you are avoiding the constructive preparation that will help your performance.
- Compulsive behaviours – you participate in risky, unhealthy or destructive behaviours to break or divert the hold that anxiety has on you. This can include excessive binge eating, over spending (consumerism), drinking, smoking, drug taking or other addictions. It can also include engaging in high risk, or highly exciting (adrenaline-filled) activities such as aggressive sports, gambling or sexual activity.
- Attachment – you seek comfort in people who are over-protective of you, or visiting places that will keep you “safe” e.g. staying home. Or you seek comfort in routine or ritualistic activities that comfort your mind such as comfort eating, watching television and social media.
4. Emotional performance anxiety symptoms relate to feelings that can accompany your anxiety or they describe the different adjectives that reflect the degree of your anxiety.
Anxiety can be distressing even though you (as a child) may not be able to express how you are feeling at the time. It’s the physical and behavioural components of anxiety that can consciously be the most troublesome in terms of your daily functioning.
Emotional anxiety symptoms can include feeling:
- Irritable, jumpy or edgy
- Sensitive (to criticism or rejection)
- Preoccupied (with other’s responses)
- Worried, apprehensive, nervous or uneasy
Over a period of time, the four components of anxiety accumulate and combine to drive you and your performance into submission. Anxiety can destroy your expressive creativity contained within your talents and skills if it is not affectively managed.
Common treatments for performance anxiety
Medication – The medication commonly prescribed by your GP for performance anxiety is beta blockers (propranolol and atenolol). A beta blocker will help to dull the physical effects of the stress hormones when the “fight or flight” response is activated. They are best for specific situations, like one-off performances, but they won’t help with the emotional symptoms of anxiety. As with all medication, there can be side effects.
Talking therapy – Talking therapies can include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Talking therapies aim to help you change your thinking, control your anxiety and confront your performance situations. Some approaches can take a significant time to change your perception of your performance however.
Self-help therapy – This considers certain lifestyle changes that can alter the physical effects of anxiety e.g. doing exercise, meditation or yoga to lower your levels of physical tension. This approach may also consider confronting the behavioural anxiety symptoms that are drowning your energy levels e.g. maintaining healthy sleeping patterns or cutting back on alcohol consumption. Or it can involve gaining help from your teaching professional or colleagues to alter some of the cognitive anxiety symptoms.
How can hypnotherapy help your performance anxiety?
Hypnotherapy can help you stay in the “zone”
The zone is considered to be a state of focused awareness in which you coordinate all of the effective parts of mind and body to achieve a peak level of performance. Hypnotherapy can help access and stay in the zone when stress and anxiety are disturbing your performances.
Anxiety control is a major part of achieving excellence in your performance situation. When anxiety is high, your cognitive, affective and (motor) skills suffer. Hypnotherapy can offer you “mind tools” that will ensure that you are getting the very best out of your abilities when the situation demands it.
Manage anticipatory anxiety
Anticipatory anxiety can fool your mind into believing that those catastrophes are inevitable. It can consume your mental and physical build-up to the performance day as if that day is happening right now. Anxiety symptoms can disrupt your relaxation time, sleep and sociability. Hypnotherapy can alter that apprehension ensuring that you remain positive and focused on your performance success.
Reframe past traumas
Past traumas act as negative seeds of belief in your historical timeline. That “bad” performance, failure, near miss, injury or criticism gets stored in the deepest part of your mind coated with “Danger – Avoid!” So when you prepare to enter the arena again, your unconscious mind discharges stress signals (adrenaline) to warn you of the threat of a repeat traumatic performance. Hypnotherapy regression techniques can be used to release the emotion of these traumas, so that you can look ahead without the negative emotional bias.
Positive visualisation acts as the mental rehearsal for your peak performance experience. Hypnotherapy provides the mental platform to create an intense visualisation of your desired capabilities. When you can visualise performing confidently in front of your feared audience (e.g. assessor, examiner, competitor etc.) you will activate the beliefs, emotions and physical sensations necessary to achieve your reality.
Desensitise your anxiety/panic response
Practising your skills in isolation is very different to performing your skills with your audience. Some “performance” situations that include your feared audience are hard to create until the situation arrives. Along with positive visualisation, hypnotherapy can help you to you “get used” to your audience. By gradually adding your stressors into visualisations in a safe way, you can be desensitised to your threats and feel ready to deal with them on the performance day.