Exposure Therapy for Performance Anxiety: Give Yourself a Therapy.

Written by: Arooj Paulus – B. Sc (Applied Psychology)

Last updated date : January 22, 2023

Do you get anxious or worried when you are about to give any performance? Situations such as a speech at school or a presentation at work can give you anxiety. Anyone can be anxious but for some people, it is more than just a performance. Anxiety can be tough to treat. It is not simply a result of events but it can also grow on its own. Yet It can create an anxiety cycle that takes a significant lot of effort to break. So to try to break the cycle and manage anxiety, mental health experts use a variety of therapies. Exposure therapy for performance anxiety is one such technique. Research has shown that it is among the best techniques for dealing with both short and long-term anxiety. It is a therapy based on behavior principles that you can give yourself exposure therapy at home as well before any performance.

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Chapter 1:

What Is Exposure Therapy?

It involves the concept of fear of extinction. Its roots are based on research that reveals that when things fail to create the typical response, then the human brain becomes used to it. When you are made to face fear for a long duration of time, you adjust to the environment that creates the fear to the level where it is no longer stressful to you.

For instance, you have a fear of going to stage and you leave or avoid the place where you may have to perform on stage. It may be possible that you have a bad memory of performance on stage. So you may classically condition that bad memory to your future performance. Exposure therapy will help you to gradually expose yourself to your fear and see that nothing worse happened than what you were thinking.

During the therapy, you are exposed to an event, or thing that causes you to have anxiety or panic. Controlled exposure to a trigger by a trusted person in a comfortable place can relieve the symptoms slowly over time of anxiety. People with performance anxiety typically fear shame and rejection. In vivo exposure therapy is generally used with performance anxiety. It is proven to reduce anxiety and avoidance related to performance.

Let us consider the following four types of exposure therapy for performance anxiety. You can get help from a mental health expert to select which type is best for you.

In Vivo Exposure Therapy Imaginal Exposure Therapy Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Interoceptive Exposure Therapy
It involves directly facing a feared event or task. For instance, if you have a fear of speaking in public, then you might be asked to deliver a speech in front of a group to reduce this fear. A group of friends or family members can be suggested to have less fear arousal. It involves imagining the feared event or task

For instance, if you fear how you will perform on stage, you can imagine you are performing on stage. So that when you perform on the stage you will know what to do.

Note: Look at the positive side of your performance. As imagining negative can further increase anxiety.

It involves virtually introducing you to a feared event or task.

For instance, if you are afraid of speaking in public, you can give a virtual speech. It may involve a group voice or video meeting on your computer. In this way, you will be exposed to a situation that is less feared by you. Similarly increasing your self-confidence as you accomplish the task.

It involves triggering bodily symptoms that are harmless yet fearful.

For instance, if you panic when you perform. Sweating, blurred vision, or increased heartbeat may be a cue for you to panic. This therapy will involve your bodily sensations to make you realize that an increased heartbeat is a bodily sign of exertion while not a sign of a panic attack.

Chapter 2:

How Can You Give Yourself Exposure Therapy at Home?

It is best to do exposure therapy with a mental health professional, as they can handle increased anxiety levels. But don’t worry as we are here to help. So you can also give yourself exposure therapy for performance anxiety at home. You just have to follow the following steps

Step 1: Make a List

Make a list of events or tasks that you are afraid of. For instance, if you fear speaking in public then you can make a list of things which you are afraid of. E.g. Saying “hi” to a group member, asking them a question, or making a small conversation with anyone in the audience may be on your list if you have performance anxiety.

Step 2: Build a Fear Ladder

Make a ladder of fear by rating each fear from 0 to 10. Start by listing your fears from less fearful things to most fearful things. So you will start from a less fearful situation for better results.

Tip: Make a goal and then make a list of steps to accomplish it. E.g., giving a speech at a seminar.

Step 3: Face you Fears

Expose yourself to the feared situation by using the suitable type of exposure therapy. You can lessen your fear by staying in the same situation for a longer time to habituate yourself. Or you can try out the task again and again so that it is no longer fearful to you e.g. practice speaking in front of different groups.

Tip: You can start by doing it with a trusted person with whom you feel comfortable. As fear of judgment is one of the themes of performance anxiety.

Step 4: Move along Slowly and Practice Relaxation

Because exposure to fears might cause anxiety. So it is recommended that you practice deep breathing or another relaxing exercise to help lessen your anxiety.

Tip: Please don’t hurry! It might be scary to face your fears. Take things slowly and patiently. Go at your own pace!

Step 5: Track Your Progress

Have a look at the list of your fear ladder. Now rate it again. Hopefully, you will see a change. Well done! Even a minor change is your accomplishment.

Tip: Don’t forget to keep up the progress that you have achieved. Keep exposing yourself to your feared situations regularly to avoid anxiety getting back. Also, don’t be upset if your anxieties begin to return. This may happen during stressful life changes.

Step 6: Give Yourself a Reward

Treat yourself since you have come this far. Rewarding your brave act will strengthen your brave behavior. Celebrate your victory.

Chapter 3:

Call to Action

Read the article “Chronic Worry about Future – How to Break the Cycle” at Epsychonline to know your anxiety triggers and to better manage them that may affect your performance. Further, you can start a course titled “DBT for Social Anxiety” at Epsychonline, to get help and manage your anxiety related to performance at social events.

"Learnt a lot from this course" Sally

51 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount