Millions of people throughout the world suffer from performance anxiety, be it in sport, business, exams, public speaking, the performing arts, or even in the bedroom. But there is a way to overcome performance anxiety (in any sphere of life).
Used in the right way, hypnosis can help you escape the negative trance of fear and trepidation and access ‘in the zone’ flow states, helping you conquer anxiety, perform better and enjoy whatever you’re doing.
Let’s find out more about how to overcome performance anxiety and get back to your best…
- What is performance anxiety?
- What are the symptoms of performance anxiety?
- Different types of performance anxiety
- Sexual performance anxiety
- My experience of stage fright
- How does anxiety affect performance?
- What causes performance anxiety?
- Why performance anxiety is a trance state
- How hypnosis can help you perform better
- Take the first step to conquer your performance anxiety
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What is performance anxiety?
According to the American Psychological Association, performance anxiety is an “apprehension or fear of being unable to perform a task or of performing it at a level that will raise expectations of even better task achievement.” (1)
Stated simply, performance anxiety is a feeling of apprehension, worry or fear that you’ve associated with a certain task, such as public speaking or giving presentations, though it can be associated to almost any activity that involves performing in some way.
It’s commonly referred to as ‘stage fright’ and it almost always involves a misuse of the imagination where you see things going badly wrong. I’ll say more about this later and explain why the imagination plays a huge part in performance as a whole.
But what exactly does performance anxiety feel like? What are the symptoms?
What are the symptoms of performance anxiety?
Like any anxiety disorder, performance anxiety will produce typical fight, flight or freeze reactions – all part of the survival brain’s defence mechanisms.
Your heart will beat faster, your breathing will be more shallow (which might lead to hyperventilation), you’ll sweat more, and you may need to visit the loo more often than usual. You might also experience dizziness, shaking or tremors and a dry mouth.
It might be more difficult to speak properly – or say what you mean to say – because the part of the brain that controls language is hijacked when strong emotion takes control. This is the last thing you want if you’re acting or singing on stage.
Your mind might also be racing with thoughts, making it difficult to think calmly and clearly.
Different types of performance anxiety
Anxiety related to performance can occur in all walks of life. But here’s a list of the main types of performance anxiety…
- Stage fright – for anyone performing in front of others such as actors and singers
- Sports performance anxiety – which can happen in any sport if you feel under pressure or if things aren’t going well
- Exam and test anxiety – you won’t get the grades you want if your emotional brain answers the questions!
- Interview anxiety – you won’t give a great first impression if you can’t communicate clearly
- Public speaking/giving presentations anxiety – similar to anxiety during interviews, the language centre in the brain doesn’t function well when the survival brain is in control
- Sexual performance anxiety – linked to perceived abilities to satisfy your partner (see more below)
- Teaching anxiety – teachers in schools have to ‘perform’ well to deliver their lessons. Anxiety will undoubtedly affect the quality of the lesson being taught
Sexual performance anxiety
With up to 25% of men and 16% of women stating they have sexual performance anxiety (2) I thought I’d better say a word or two about anxiety linked to sexual performance…
There is so much pressure these days to have the perfect body image and perform like a porn star in the bedroom. These unrealistic expectations raise our stress levels, turning what should be a loving, intimate encounter into some sort of contest!
Sex should never be about performance but the truth is that many people, especially men, have a real issue around their sexual prowess. The added stress can lead to problems like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. And a so-called ‘failure’ in the bedroom can then serve as a template for future experiences, leading to the belief that says, “I’m no good at sex.”
Undoubtedly, this then has a knock-on effect on one’s self esteem and the relationship as a whole.
Want to get control of your sexual performance anxiety?
My experience of stage fright
Way back in my early 20s I formed a blues-rock band and we gigged all over East Anglia. As front man and bassist, most of the time the audience’s eyes were on me (until the lead guitarist cranked up his amp, Jimi Hendrix style!)
In our early gigs stage fright almost got the better of me. I would have to run to the loo several times before going on stage! (I didn’t drink alcohol to relax like the other band members as, more often than not, I was the driver who would have to get us home after the gig).
By the time we’d done a dozen or so gigs I’d learned to calm myself down just enough to hold it together. Luckily, around the same time, I attended a retreat where I mastered a breathing technique to help conquer my performance anxiety. It really helped and I was soon able to relax and enjoy playing in front of people.
How does anxiety affect performance?
In my own example, the anxiety I felt on stage made me very self-conscious. This is not what you want when performing! Good performance is about getting into flow states (3) to the point where you ‘lose yourself’.
But with performance anxiety I was too self conscious; I wasn’t letting the music play itself. I was thinking too hard and too much, concentrating on playing the right notes rather than trusting to muscle memory. (After all, I’d put in hundreds of hours of practice; I should have known the songs by now!)
When you become self-conscious it’s almost as if you’re expecting things to go wrong.
The thing is that performance should be a more right-brain, flow-type experience. But when anxiety kicks in, the survival brain takes control. Then it’s all about fight, flight, or freeze. Or, in the case of performance anxiety, fright.
We stand there frozen to the spot, forgetting our words because the language centre of the brain has shut down; it’s no good reciting Shakespeare when a Sabre-toothed tiger is coming toward you!
What causes performance anxiety?
So how do we get anxious about performing? What goes on psychologically?
The key thing is that the brain associates a certain act or task with the emotion of apprehension, fear, anxiety or dread.
This could be based on a personal experience where something you did went horribly wrong. Or it could be the result of witnessing others perform badly. This is how and why we can become traumatised ourselves through witnessing other people involved in traumatic incidents.
RELATED CONTENT: How hypnotherapy can cure PTSD and other traumas
In effect, a pattern of expectation gets laid down in the emotional brain (the limbic system) and anything that later matches the pattern will trigger the same emotion. One anxious experience of sex, for instance, could lay down a template that gets triggered the next time…and the next.
This is where hypnosis plays a huge part in the formulation (and overcoming) of performance anxiety…
Why performance anxiety is a trance state
What we need to understand here is that anxiety is a trance state. It is a form of hypnosis where our attention mechanism is ‘locked’ in a fight/flight/freeze response. This is a great response in the face of genuine danger, but when performing on stage or in the bedroom? Not so good…
Locked into a performance anxiety trance, you’re unable to access more refined qualities that you’ve developed through practise and prior experience. Or you’re unable to trust your own, instinctive abilities; the human body knows how to speak; it knows how to make love.
But when the survival brain takes over, the ‘Chief Executive’ higher cortex is bypassed and with it, your natural talents and instincts…
All your exam revision goes out of the window. Those hundreds of hours practising that song count for nothing. You come across as a complete idiot at that job interview. And when it comes to sex, just forget it!
So if performance anxiety is a trance state, it makes sense that we use hypnosis to change it. Indeed, talking about things or trying to change your thoughts about it will make little difference.
RELATED CONTENT: The false promise of CBT: Why you can’t just think yourself better
How hypnosis can help you perform better
So what goes on in hypnosis? Used in the right way, hypnosis accesses the REM state – your most powerful re-programming state – where you can modify old negative performance memories and create better expectations about future performance.
In the REM state (which occurs naturally throughout waking hours when the brain switches over to right hemisphere control) you lay down a new blueprint for better performance on the athletics track or golf course, in your next public speaking event, or in the bedroom.
In the REM state trance, when you can calmly imagine performing better, your brain links that feeling to that activity. This then serves as a template that gets triggered next time you’re in that situation for real. Instead of anxiety, you feel the good feeling you’ve now associated to that activity.
Take the first step to conquer your performance anxiety
I hope you’ve found this page informative and that it’s given you some hope that you can overcome your performance anxiety in any walk of life.
If you’d like to ask me any questions you can do so by booking a Free Online Discovery Session.
Or to find out more and start making improvements in your performance today check out this hypnosis download.
Notes and references:
(1) performance anxiety full definition APA Dictionary of Psychology
(2) sexual performance anxiety Sexual Performance Anxiety – ScienceDirect
(3) for more on flow states see this short video about the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi