Performance Anxiety

If the thought of performing in any capacity – whether it's a work presentation, wedding toast, or even in the bedroom with a new partner – makes you sweat, you may be experiencing performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety, which may colloquially be referred to as "stage fright," is underperforming, due exclusively to anxiety (and not to skill level or ability).

When performance anxiety occurs

Performance anxiety can strike any time you're the central focus of an event, or "performing."  

Below are a few of the situations in which you might experience performance anxiety:

  • When giving a toast (e.g., at a wedding)
  • Participating in, or leading, work presentations
  • Raising your hand to ask or answer a question (in class, lectures, etc.)
  • Playing a sport (especially one with hyper-focus, like golf, baseball, etc.)
  • Performing as an actor, dancer, or musician
  • When engaging in sex, especially with a new partner

Lots of people experience performance anxiety at some point or another. Even professional athletes and performing artists commonly work with therapists on issues related to performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety symptoms  

Physical symptoms of performance anxiety

Almost anyone with performance anxiety will experience some physical symptoms.  

This is because your body responds to the situation in the same way it would if you were being attacked. The “fight-or-flight” mechanism kicks in and you feel as if you were in real danger. Common physical symptoms of performance anxiety include:

  • Racing pulse
  • Dry mouth or tight throat
  • Trembling
  • Sweaty or cold hands
  • Nausea
  • Vision changes

Psychological symptoms of performance anxiety

With more severe performance anxiety, you may also experience intrusive psychological symptoms, such as:

  • A sense of mental numbness or dissociation
  • Memory slips
  • Worrying for weeks (or even months) in advance of a performance
  • Full-blown panic attacks at the mere thought of performing
  • Inability to perform

Treatment options for performance anxiety

Your course of action for performance anxiety depends on your symptoms. If your performance anxiety is related to sexual performance, for example, you may benefit from sex therapy.

One particularly effective therapy type is EMDR, which can help your brain process traumatic memories related to the anxiety and alleviate overall symptoms.