Most people feel anxious when they perform a task publicly. The reason is that they fear being scrutinised. The more unfamiliar and difficult the task, the more likely the person will feel anxious. Most people, however, know how to deal with this and manage their anxiety. When the anxiety becomes sufficiently overpowering or prolonged so as to cause physical or psychological distress or impair performance, then it becomes a disorder. When a person suffers from a performance anxiety, he or she may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feeling of tension
- Shortness of breath
- Gastric upset
- Restlessness and listlessness
- Concentration problems
- Pins and needles sensation in limbs or face
- Lapse of memory
Most people only suffer from performance anxiety when they are in the actual performance situation itself. Some, however, may experience anticipatory anxiety. They become anxious when thinking about or waiting for the actual performance situation to happen.
How to manage performance anxiety
Preparation before the performance situation:
- You must prepare your task well. Whether you are sitting for a test, going for a job interview or giving a public performance, you must master the knowledge or skills as best as you can. Familiarity gives a sense of confidence that keeps anxiety at bay.
- Decide the level of achievement that you want to reach beforehand and stick to it. Your self-expectations must be realistic, but do not lower them just because you you fear not accomplishing them. It is a common misconception that one should aim low to avoid disappointment. Research shows that when you aim low, if capable of achieving more, your unconscious mind will impede your actual performance to meet the lower standard.
- Decide for yourself what external help you need to achieve and execute your goals. For example, you may need extra coaching from an expert in a particular field.
- Practise relaxation or guided imagery exercises for at least ten days before the event, to lower your stress level. (The “Calm Optimiser” CD produced by Healthy Mind Concepts is a good tool to use)
- Build a visualisation of the anticipated performance situation, and your success in it, into your relaxation and guided imagery exercise.
- Have a good sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy diet with reduced alcohol intake and abstinence from illicit drugs.
During the performance situation:
- Perform as though it is just one of your normal practice sessions.
- Imagine the examiners, the audience and other significant people who decide the outcome of your performance to be your own family members or good friends who are supportive and non-judgmental.
- Focus on the moment, savouring and enjoying each second of your own performance.
If you stick to the above, you will find that your performance anxiety will lessen. Above all else, be kind to yourself. There is nothing so important in life that you need to beat yourself when you do not do well on a particular occasion!