Have you ever found yourself feeling nervous or anxious before taking the stage or giving a presentation?

Or perhaps, you couldn't relax before participating in a sports event or exam?

Maybe you have even felt your mind swirling with negative thinking before a first date, job interview, or party?

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If you relate to any of the feelings described, then you are not alone. Nearly everyone experiences performance anxiety or stage fright at some point, especially during high-stakes situations where an individual feels on display or like they are being judged.

The good news is that most people are able to use calming strategies to ensure that they don' miss out on exciting opportunities as a result of their performance anxiety.

What causes performance anxiety?

The brain is amazing at keeping us alive! Unfortunately, certain situations can trigger a fight or flight response in the brain, even when there is no physical danger.

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Other people might feel the need for perfection or experience feelings of self-doubt, which may lead to performance anxiety.

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Feeling intense outside pressure to perform to a certain standard or live up to high expectations can also create feelings of performance anxiety, especially, if a person feels vulnerable to negative judgment.

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What does performance anxiety look like?

What are the signs and symptoms of performance anxiety?

  • lack of focus or task avoidance

  • restlessness

  • negative thoughts

  • dizziness/headache

  • sweating

  • difficulty breathing

  • racing heartbeat

  • nausea/stomach issues

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What types of high-stakes situations might trigger performance anxiety?

  • job interviews

  • presentations

  • live performances

  • tests

  • sports events

  • dating

  • public speaking

  • networking or social events

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How do I cope with performance anxiety?

Imagine you have a big, high-stakes situation coming up and you're feeling performance anxiety. Try the following strategies to help manage it:

  • Reflect on how your performance brings value and shift away from thoughts of your fear.

  • Visualize positive outcomes of the situation.

  • Take deep breaths, meditate, or do gentle movements to calm your mind.

  • Prepare and practice in advance to build confidence. 

  • Connect with others involved by smiling, making eye contact, or greeting participants. 

  • Be yourself and don't worry about being perfect.

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What actions I can take when my performance anxiety arises?

If you feel your performance anxiety starting as you begin a high-stakes situation like a test, project, sports event, musical or drama event, etc., there are small steps you can take to cope in the moment.

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  • Name your feelingsfor example, "This feeling is anxiety, and it will pass."

  • Hold an object and put all your focus on that object — this object can be a random small object, a good luck charm, or something meaningful to you. Consider what the object looks like and feels like in your hand.

  • Distract yourself — think of something funny, focus on objects that are a certain color or start with a certain letter in your surroundings, count backwards from 100, etc.

  • Get your body moving — do jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs, jump up and down, run in place, dance, etc.

  • Listen to music — put on your favorite song that puts you in a good mood or a type of music that energizes you.

  • Journal — write out your feelings, write positive affirmations or mantras, organize your thoughts and ideas.

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Amal is set to perform a solo for the upcoming musical she is part of in her local community theater. She loves singing, but is very nervous about the solo, as the spotlight will be on her.

She finds herself becoming more and more nervous as opening day nears. She's struggling to stop her negative self-talk and finds it difficult to sleep. She found herself shaking at the dress rehearsal.


What strategies might Amal use to overcome her feelings of performance anxiety related to opening night? Select all that apply:

What if my performance anxiety becomes overwhelming?

If your performance anxiety isn't something you can manage, consider seeking professional help. There is no shame in needing additional support to work through your anxiety.

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A therapist can help you. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proved to be effective at helping people overcome intense feelings of stage fright. In some cases, medication may be prescribed in conjunction with therapy to improve performance anxiety.

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Take Action

Most people get nervous in high-stakes situations from time to time. Remember, you're not alone and there are strategies that can help you work through the stress to ensure stage fright doesn’t prevent you from taking part in new exciting opportunities!

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