What is performance anxiety. All about performance anxiety. Cure anxiety.
What is performance anxiety?
Definition of anxiety: the success at any price!
Performance anxiety is something most of us experience from time to time, in differing intensities and under varying circumstances. It can hit when you're confronted with a situation as seemingly benign as making a phone call, or one as potentially stressful as speaking or playing an instrument for an audience of thousands of people. No one I know likes it!
Who is affected by performance anxiety?
It feels mildly or extremely uncomfortable, as if there were something very wrong happening, and when panic sets in everything seems to tighten up; now you're ready to flee, fight, or freeze! In this state, it can be pretty difficult or impossible to give your best performance, and you're likely to be disappointed with yourself afterwards. You might wonder, Why can't I perform as well as I always do when I'm at home alone?
Symptoms of performance anxiety
Physical symptoms of performance anxiety
Symptoms of performance anxiety vary, but most are pretty familiar: sweaty palms, dry mouth, faster heart-rate, disturbed breathing, shaking limbs, etc. Negative and repetitive thoughts arise, such as, What am I doing here? I can't DO this! I can't wait until this is over. I'm never doing this again! What if I mess up? What if they don't like me? What if... Sometimes, it can feel as dramatic as being on a collision-course towards certain death, with your unspoken terror being, Will I ever survive this? If you suffer from performance anxiety, think for a moment about what your typical experience of performance anxiety is like. What do you feel and think? When does it start? Does it creep up on you long before the event, or just before you go on stage? Or right after you actually make a mistake? Or maybe it's a chronic, low-grade performance anxiety that's there all the time in the background... It's worth investigating how it manifests, so that you know more about what you're dealing with upfront.
Consequences of performance anxiety
We're very resourceful in trying to change the way we're feeling when we're uncomfortable. Some people feel they need to keep moving around, pace or talk a lot. Some people get very quiet and inward-focused, trying to block out all distractions. Some people have a special object or superstitious ritual that they put their trust in. Stop reading a moment to consider what you usually do. Unfortunately, none of these attempts to get rid of the anxiety is likely to work as well as simple, wholehearted acceptance body, mind and soul of the reality that we are experiencing in the present moment. What actually works is this: first, to realize that our reactions of anxiety are habitual, and then to admit that there might exist other, more constructive ways of reacting to the situation. Once we open our minds to the idea that there might be another way, we can learn a new response that will take us through, and gradually out of, the anxiety instead of prolonging it or making it worse.
Remedies for performance anxiety
A way to deal with anxiety that works!
The following can be practiced seated, but I recommend lying down on a firm surface in what is known as the semi-supine or constructive rest position: on your back, with a book or two under your head and your knees bent and aiming up to the ceiling (for more complete instructions on how to lie down in semi-supine, see links below). After a few minutes of resting and allowing yourself to settle into a calmer frame of mind, take your time to slowly think through each of the following steps.
1. Imagine that you are about to give a performance (if that is not the present reality).
2. Where are you right now? Where are you in space? Where is up? Down? Left? Right?
3. If you're not actually anxious right now, remember what that feels like.
4. Scan your body briefly, noticing what the anxiety feels like in different parts of your body.
5. Realize that the feelings of anxiety are your habitual reactions to your idea of performing, and that the way you usually deal with the discomfort is to try to DO something to get them under control.
6. Make a conscious decision to do something different in response to those feelings this time: you're going to NOT DO the same thing you always do. In order for those feelings to change, you will simply allow those feelings to BE there, giving yourself the freedom to feel them first.
7. Choose one sensation that is especially present, and get curious about it. (For instance, think: Hmm... This is really interesting! I wonder what's going to happen next?)
8. Tell yourself what it feels like. (Example: I feel my heart pounding really hard.)
9. Do any thoughts seem to go with this feeling? (Example: I can't stand this. I wish it would stop!)
10. Gently notice any thoughts and stay with the feeling for just a few moments, without trying to make them go away. Don't try to relax, move around, or do anything else. Just stay with the experience you're having, finding it interesting, and letting it be uncomfortable. (You'll survive!)
11. Is there another feeling that seems to want your attention? Gently shift your attention to this feeling, get curious about it, go back to no. 8, and repeat the process as often as you like.
How to manage performance anxiety
If you practice when you are not anxious, it will be much easier to take the leap to applying these steps in the moment when you are. To recap, this, in a nutshell, is what you're doing:
• You recognize your habitual response to a situation.
• You see that you have a choice how you respond is up to you.
• You know the old way doesn't work, so you decide to stop doing that and try something new.
• Since the old way was to try to get rid of or change the situation, this time you won't do that.
• You don't do anything other than let your feelings be there, allowing yourself to feel them.
• Once you feel the feelings, you come to know them, and then they're no longer frightening.
• When there's nothing to be afraid of, the feelings of performance anxiety disappear. Magic!