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Performance anxiety

Performance anxiety, ‘stage fright’, fear of public speaking

Performance anxiety is not exclusive to the stage - for many people this condition can be triggered by job interviews, public speaking, or even their own wedding. Our mental wellbeing advisor, Marianna Kilburn, explains performance anxiety in more detail.

What is performance anxiety?

Performance anxiety is when a person experiences symptoms of anxiety or stress before or during a performance, speech or similar event where they are the sole focus.

Symptoms experienced are an exaggeration of the normal spectrum of nervousness or anxiousness when, for example, giving a talk in school or work. These usually disappear once the performance begins, although it is not always the case, and some people freeze on stage. Fear of this happening will only worsen the symptoms and make this eventuality more likely.

What are the symptoms?

The occurrence of performance anxiety varies from one person to the next and from situation to situation.

For example, one may feel more anxious performing solo because of the feeling of being exposed; for another, group performances may trigger more severe symptoms in fear that they let the rest of the group down.

The most common symptoms of performance anxiety are:

  • Feeling of ‘butterflies’ or a ‘knot’ in the stomach
  • Shallow quick breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to think clearly and rationally
  • Shaking and sweating
  • Worrying that something bad will happen
  • Feeling inadequate to perform

How to cope better

Performance anxiety is usually short lived and emotions turn to excitement and positive energy once the performance begins. Because of this, many people do not find it necessary to seek specific treatments.

Others, however, feel that treatment improves their performance. These include a variety of coping strategies, herbal remedies and conventional medicines.

It is often assumed that regular performers, such as your favourite artists, do not experience stage fright. However, this is not always true, but those affected have usually found some kind of effective coping strategy.

This may include listening to music, taking deep slow breaths, and walking around to keep muscles loose and relaxed. Some find that running the performance through in their minds helps; for others, this only increases the anxiety.

As with most forms of anxiety, performance anxiety affects everyone differently, so it is important to realise that what works for one person may not work for the next, so you will need to experiment and find the best solution for you.


Alongside these strategies, many people find that certain herbal remedies are effective. The most commonly used herbs include Valerian and Avena sativa (Oats straw) which work as mild tranquilisers.

Conventional medicines are not usually advised for stage fright as symptoms are usually short-lived and you may find that the side effects are not worth it. However, in extreme cases, a doctor may recommend beta-blockers or sedative drugs. You should carefully monitor their use.

It is important to remember too, that often the anxiety that you feel before giving a performance or speech is turned into positive energy during the performance, spurring you on to be more successful.

You do not want to take the pressure off too much or become too relaxed, as this may cause your performance to suffer. A healthy level of anxiety is often a much needed part of a performance...

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