Stage Fright (Performance Anxiety)

If you dread the thought of getting up in front of a group of people and performing, you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from performance anxiety, commonly called "stage fright." In fact, most people would rather get the flu than perform. Athletes, musicians, actors, and public speakers often get performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety can prevent you from doing what you enjoy and can affect your career. Worst of all, performance anxiety can negatively affect your self-esteem and self-confidence. Although it may be impossible to totally overcome performance anxiety, there are many things you can do to control your emotions and reduce anxiety.

Performance Anxiety Symptoms

Being the center of attention and having all eyes on you can be stressful. Your body reacts to this situation in much the same way as it would if you were being attacked. Your body's "fight-or-flight" mechanism kicks in, which is why symptoms of stage fright are similar to symptoms that occur when you are in real danger.

Performance anxiety symptoms may include:

Performance Anxiety Causes

Simply put, stress and anxiety about performing in front of people causes performance anxiety. Confronting your fears and vulnerabilities, accepting yourself for who you are, and not feeling like you have to prove yourself to others, is the first step toward overcoming performance anxiety. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, nobody expects you to be perfect, and it is OK to make mistakes.

The second step is learning how to redirect your negative thoughts, beliefs, images, and predictions about performing in public. Doing this is not as difficult as you might think.

Performance Anxiety Treatments

Here are 10 tips to help you overcome your fears and shine on stage, on the field, or at the podium:

  • Be prepared: practice, practice, practice.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar intake the day of the performance. Eat a sensible meal a few hours before you are to perform so that you have energy and don't get hungry. A low-fat meal including complex carbohydrates -- whole-grain pasta, lentil soup, yogurt, or a bean and rice burrito -- is a good choice.
  • Shift the focus off of yourself and your fear to the enjoyment you are providing to the spectators. Close your eyes and imagine the audience laughing and cheering, and you feeling good.
  • Don't focus on what could go wrong. Instead focus on the positive. Visualize your success.
  • Avoid thoughts that produce self-doubt.
  • Practice controlled breathing, meditation, biofeedback, and other strategies to help you relax and redirect your thoughts when they turn negative. It is best to practice some type of relaxation technique every day, regardless of whether you have a performance, so that the skill is there for you when you need it.
  • Take a walk, jump up and down, shake out your muscles, or do whatever feels right to ease your anxious feelings before the performance.
  • Connect with your audience -- smile, make eye contact, and think of them as friends.
  • Act natural and be yourself.
  • Exercise, eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and live a healthy lifestyle.

Keep in mind that stage fright is usually worse before the performance and often goes away once you get started.

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Overcoming Performance Anxiety: Tricks of the Trade

There are also mental tricks you can play to help you perform with less anxiety. These include:

  • Focus on the friendliest faces in the audience.
  • Laugh when you can, it can help you relax.
  • Make yourself look good. When you look good, you feel good.

These tips should help reduce performance anxiety. But if they don't, talk to a counselor or therapist trained in treating anxiety issues. You may benefit from more intensive therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help overcome performance anxiety. In addition, beta-blockers such as propranolol that lower the heart rate and block the effects of adrenaline are sometimes used by people with performance anxiety.

Confronting your fears and learning ways to reduce and manage them can be empowering. Not only will it make you feel good about yourself, you may discover that you are a more confident performer, too.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America: "Conquering Stage Fright."

University of Northern Iowa: "Managing Stage Fright."

Advanced Public Speaking Institute: "Public Speaking: Stage Fright Strategies."

Vanderbilt University, Department of Psychology: "Beta Blockers as Treatment for Stage Fright."

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