October 27, 2020

Jem Fundano

Stage Control: Conquering Performance Anxiety

Does the thought of singing at your friend's wedding seem dreadful to you? To some, the pressure associated with performing in public can cause severe distress. In today's approval-driven society, the fear of failure or rejection can prevent one from delivering their performances. This is called "performance anxiety."


Classified as a type of social phobia and commonly referred to as stage fright, performance anxiety is the body's reaction to stress under the spotlight. The body perceives such a situation as a threat. So, it reacts to the situation as it would to a real danger. Hence the fight-or-flight response is activated, manifesting symptoms such as:

  • increased heart rate and breathing rate
  • localized tremors on the lips, hands, or knees, or generalized shaking of the body
  • increased sweating
  • dryness of the mouth
  • nausea and vomiting
  • gastric distress
  • vision changes

Mild nervousness is common. However, to others, the effect of performance anxiety can be extreme. It makes them suffer from pronounced physical symptoms coupled with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses.

Alterations in memory, worrying excessively, full blown panic attacks, and the inability to perform are commonly felt.


Anybody can suffer from performance anxiety. Even seasoned actors are not exempt from this. Activities like playing in a sports event, participating in work presentations, or performing as a musician can trigger stress responses.

To better understand the phenomenon, researchers conducted a study about performance anxiety effects in different groups. In a 2015 study conducted on orchestra musicians in Germany, researchers found that of the 2,536 musicians, 90% suffer from music performance anxiety.

Since musical performances on a professional level exert tremendous amounts of stress, the study found out that 15-25% of those suffering from music performance anxiety experience severe and debilitating attacks.

Among children, performance anxiety and poor school performance are related. One research indicates that test anxiety increases across the formative years. Highly anxious children scored lower than those of calm states which led to the conclusion that tests or performance anxiety is a severe problem in children.

Related: Peak Performance: Elevating Your Mindset About Work and Life


The effects of performance anxiety can be harmful, particularly if left unmanaged. It can cause impairment in relationships and may greatly impact a person's self-confidence, work, and social life. But, the good news is that it can be controlled.

Here are a few ways in conquering performance anxiety:

  • Lifestyle changes such as proper exercise, getting adequate rest and sleep, eating a nutritious and balanced diet
  • Limit intake of caffeine and sugary food or drink hours before the activity
  • Practice deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques such as meditation, and perform them when the first signs of anxiety are felt. It is advisable to follow these techniques regularly to master the skills and have it ready when needed.
  • Change thought patterns about being on center stage by shifting the mind's focus from adverse outcomes to positive ones.
  • Connect with the audience through eye contact or smile
  • Relax. Laughter can ease the tension.
  • Psychological intervention may be necessary if the anxiety is severe and may threaten your career.

Since performance anxiety is common among children, it is important that parents help the child prepare for the event. By practicing and mentally conditioning your child that they can do it, you boost their self-confidence. The following are helpful tips for parents with anxious children:

  • Acknowledge what your child is feeling. Some parents dismiss their child's distress by telling them to "Stop worrying." Parents should guide their children on how to handle specific emotions.
  • Acknowledge the importance of the event to your child. Saying that a play is "just a one-time event" or that a game is "not a big deal" can demoralize children and make them lose motivation. Parents can show support by showing an interest in their child's endeavors, no matter how small.
  • Encouragement. Words of affirmation during game practice or play rehearsals can significantly boost their confidence.
  • Offer unconditional support. Whatever the outcome, it is vital to reassure the child that results will not make you love them less, and that results are not the measure of their worth.

Almost anyone can suffer from stage fright. If you have performance anxiety, it is essential to recognize it for what it is to address it appropriately. Most people do not seek help because they may be embarrassed. Some rationalize that anxiety before a public presentation is a normal response.

However, there is nothing normal with feeling a sense of doom or dread every time you are under the public eye. It is a stigma that must be fought, and it can start with you. Take control of the stage; conquer performance anxiety.

Related: Social Anxiety Disorder: A Condition Beyond Shyness

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