Self-regulation is crucial to balance your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in any situation you encounter. The way you perceive occurrences in your environment affects your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. So, take the time to train your mind to evaluate situations as they are and not as you prefer them to be. In this way, you learn to prioritize adaptive coping. Your self-confidence and self-esteem will benefit from your preparedness to manage stress.
Before a performance, you are unsure what is happening to you and the reason for the tightness in your chest, intense apprehension, muscle tension, and nervousness about making errors during your performance. You may even have unhelpful thoughts infringe on your concentration. Not only are these thoughts unhelpful, but they are also self-critical in a self-disapproving manner. Indeed, you anticipate embarrassing yourself, which will likely trigger your “fight or flight” response. So, you may try to avoid the activity because you forecast failure or find a way to adapt.
Specifically, you are experiencing performance anxiety. Try as you may, you will feel some pressure when performing a skill in front of an audience. There is no distinction between the novice or an expert performer. For example, the best performers in sports have “ice water in their veins” or “unflappable,” but it doesn’t mean they didn’t experience performance anxiety. Their ability to self-regulate is one factor supporting their excellent performances. Another is their capacity to concentrate under intense scrutiny and pressure.
Performance Anxiety Symptoms
The fact you will stand in the spotlight is enough for you to feel some pressure.
The pressure you experience keeps you alert and aware of what you are doing. On the other hand, stress can affect your body and mind, thus interfere with your performance. The anxious feelings may begin days before and peak on the day of the performance.
When you take center stage, the extent to which you experience anxiety can affect your performance. The audience is excited and anticipates witnessing an outstanding performance. The moment can feel so big you forget about your performance and become:
Fearful of the worst happening
Feeling of choking
Fear of losing control during the performance
Unable to relax
Hands trembling, sweaty hands
The fans may remember your performance fondly or as a choke job. You may even be labeled a coward and a flop in the big moment. Fans may recognize you as the performer whose performances were tremendous but inconsequential given your failure in the “big moments.” The narrative may likely call into question your desire, character, grit, resilience, courage, mentality, and tenacity.
Performance Anxiety Causes
According to John Dewey, people tend to think in extreme opposites. The tendency to process information this way is often associated with an either-or-narrative. When this happens, there is no in-between. The performance is either excellent or poor. There is no “gray area” between excellent or poor.
Depending on how you allocate your mental resources, you may enter the situation with several biases. The biases are all related to previous experiences, leading you to forecast an outcome before performing. These biases are:
Also, performance anxiety includes irrational automatic thoughts such as:
“I’m fearful I won’t perform up to standard.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“What was I thinking.”
“I’m never going to make it.”
“I’m such a loser.”
“I’ll never be successful in life.”
“I’m such a loser for thinking I can perform Infront of these people.”
Managing Performance Anxiety
Frequent practice can improve your memory, recall, and retention of the skill.
Identify your triggers and warning signs for anxiety
Challenge Irrational Thinking
What is the evidence to support my thinking?
What are the alternatives to my thinking?
What is the likelihood of what I’m thinking to happen?
Is what I’m thinking helpful to my performance?
Am I using language to describe my performance that supports self-doubt?
Am I making faulty assumptions about my performance?
Develop mastery goals – work on improving your capacity to execute your skill under duress, so practice with someone who will challenge you
Practice with an audience (if possible)
Recognize when you are using emotional reasoning
Anxiety is associated with muscle tension and difficulty breathing, so learn progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises.
In short, you will experience performance anxiety. Your performance anxiety will likely decrease once you begin your performance. For some performers, the pressure persists throughout their performance. You can manage your performance anxiety using meaningful learning strategies that improve the overall functioning and execution of your capability to perform your skill.
Stay Naturally Curious
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 4th edition. American Psychiatric Association.
Wade, C. & Tavris, C. (2008). Psychology. (9th ed.). Pearson.