How to Break the Cycle of Performance Anxiety?

Written by: Ankita Kathad – MA (Clinical Psychology)
Last updated date : March 22, 2023

Have you felt nervous before any performance? Well, it’s completely natural to feel stressed before any performance. Some amount of stress is even beneficial. However, some people get so nervous that they start doubting their abilities. They think that they will fail even before the event has begun. This kind of insecurity about the outcome which stops you from giving your best shot is called performance anxiety. In this article, we explore how to break the cycle of performance anxiety. We explore solutions for performance anxiety.

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Chapter 1:

Where Does Performance Anxiety Show Up?

The fear of performance can show in many situations. One can experience this before a stage event, A person can feel this fear before an exam or a presentation. More so, one can experience performance anxiety before sex.

The intensity of this fear can vary among individuals. Some experience a minor amount of stress before an event. Some people can freak out before their performance. The stress can be so much that they can panic. Most of them have a fear of failure.

This type of fear can stop people from performing. The thought of ruining the event makes them panic. This can affect their performance. This thought stops them from even trying. For instance, a person who fears rejection will not even approach his object of interest. The fear of rejection can stop them from talking to new people.


Chapter 2:

Symptoms of Performance Anxiety

The symptoms can vary among individuals. For some, this condition can be a standalone problem. For others, it can be a part of some mental disorder. People can have one symptom or a combination of them. These symptoms occur whenever there is a performance that matters. Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Constant fear of failure, embarrassment, and rejection.
  2. Physical symptoms such as fast heartbeat, sweating, and nausea.
  3. The person will want to back out. They may give excuses to cancel the performance.
  4. They will experience shaking during the performance.
  5. Feeling jittery before the event. The person may say that they have a knot in the stomach.


Chapter 3:

Causes of Performance Anxiety

There can be many reasons why a person can face performance fear. Childhood trauma, past experiences, critical comments, and personality types are some of the causes. Cultural factors and parenting styles can also result in performance anxiety. Sometimes a false belief can also lead to performance anxiety. Fear of failure is at the core of it.

Performance fear is not a lack of competence or talent. It is not because you have not prepared well. It is often a fear of ruining self-image. Often people fear that mistakes will end their career and reputation. Many people who appear very confident struggle from such kind of fear. Many superstars have admitted to suffering from stage fear.

When people have had a bad experience in the past, they probably didn’t get over it. This overthinking about past incidents can lead to stage fear. Some people can easily get over a bad past incident whereas some ruminate over it.

In some cases, strict parenting can lead to a critical self-image. Children may doubt themselves because their parents didn’t show enough confidence in them. Harsh criticism received during childhood can also leave scars on self-worth.

A need to be perfect can also lead to performance anxiety when a minor mistake is committed. People who desire perfectionism think that a small mistake can ruin their career.


Chapter 4:

The Cycle of Performance Anxiety

When a person suffers from this kind of fear, they often predict the worst outcome. This thought of the future leads to physical symptoms like shaking and sweating. Due to such signs, the person ends up performing badly. This in turn reinforces their original fear of performance. This is called the cycle of performance anxiety. Here the person finds themselves in a loop of anxiety and poor performance.

An example can be taken from stage fright. When a person has stage fear, they will predict the worst outcome. For instance, they will think that they will fumble on stage and people will make fun of them. This fear will make the person sweat and tremble. This physical discomfort will lead to a bad performance. This makes the person more conscious and they end up making more mistakes. This cycle of anxiety continues and the person feels fearful of future events too.

If this cycle of fear continues, the person may not be able to live their life to the fullest. Soon this performance fear can generalize. When it is generalized, the person feels fear of many situations. For example, they can feel anxious even while ordering at a restaurant. Therefore it is important to break the cycle of performance anxiety.


Chapter 5:

How to Break the Cycle of Performance Anxiety? Solutions to Overcome Performance Anxiety

This kind of fear can have many effects on a person’s life. It can lead to low self-esteem. Sometimes it can ruin their careers too. It leads to low self-confidence. Here are some ways to break the cycle of performance anxiety:

  1. Practice Relaxation: Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. These techniques can help you whenever you have an important performance. Practice these before and during the performance. You can hold a mock session for yourself and practice breathing that time. Before any important exams, a mock session can provide a similar environment for you to practice. Additionally, you can understand your mistakes during mock exams.
  2. Try to Enjoy the Moment: Shift your thought process. Try not to focus on the outcome. Shift your focus to the present moment. It is important to think of the outcome but that should not frighten you. Be ready to face the future. When you enjoy the moment, mistakes appear forgivable. When you focus on the here and now, you will enjoy the process. You will understand that people are not harsh when you commit a minor mistake. Focusing on the present helps you understand that there is scope for improvement.
  3. Try Not to Fix Your Gaze: When you give a presentation, don’t look at only one spot. Try looking for reassuring faces. If you make a mistake, reassure yourselves with positive affirmations. You can write these positive messages on paper and recite them before the actual event.
  4. Manifest Success: If a past event has been bothering you, imagine a scenario where you are successful. This will help you to break the cycle of fear. Take some time before the actual event and focus on all the steps of the event. In the end, imagine yourself facing victory.


Chapter 6:

Helping Someone with Performance Anxiety

If you know someone who has been facing this fear, you can use the following simple steps to help them out:

  1. Talk to Them: Talk about their thoughts and feelings. You can be a calm listener. This will help the person to verbalize their performance anxiety and you can help them address it. When the person talks about their fear to someone, it helps them in breaking the cycle of negative thoughts.
  2. Take Care of the Person’s Diet and Sleep: If your loved ones have an important performance, make sure that they eat well and sleep sufficiently. This will ensure that they are not fatigued on the day of their performance.
  3. Help Them to Face Their Fears: You can take mock sessions of the person having performance anxiety. Try to be gentle with them. You can give constructive feedback to break the cycle of performance anxiety.
  4. Cheer Them Up: If a person has had a bad performance, you can cheer them up with positive messages. This will help them get over a bad incident.

    Chapter 7:


    Many times perfectionism or social anxiety can be the root cause of performance pressure. Many of us feel nervous before an event. However, we should see a therapist if the fear of performing affects our life. At Epsyhconline there are courses named Perfectionism as well as DBT for social anxiety. These self-help courses can aid you in changing your perspectives. These courses are curated by experts. There are articles on perfectionism and different types of anxieties. Do check them out.  

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51 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

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

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