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What Is Performance Anxiety?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Performance anxiety is emotional stress rooted in concerns about performing for other people. Musicians, public speakers, and other individuals who frequently appear in front of crowds may develop this condition. It can also occur on a more intimate level in settings like the bedroom. There are a number of techniques available to manage performance anxiety, including psychotherapy, medications, and coping strategies.

Anxiety about public performance is not at all uncommon, and it is not a personal failing. In fact, a number of very notable and famous people have a history of stage fright, as it is sometimes known. Glenn Gould, a talented classical pianist, chose to stop performing in public because of his performance anxiety, and singers Renee Fleming and Barbara Streisand have both experienced severe bouts of anxiety.

The causes of performance anxiety can be complex. In young children, it is often caused by fear of the unknown or worries about being mocked and pressured by classmates. For adults, fear of letting people down or concerns about trying something new in front of a crowd can be daunting. Sometimes anxiety does not strike until late in someone's career or occurs after a negative review that shakes self confidence and makes a performer feel uneasy.

Psychotherapy for performance anxiety can include exploring the causes and developing strategies for addressing them. Children are sometimes told to do things like imagining audience members in their underwear, and this advice may be applied to adults as well, sometimes in different ways. Making the audience seem less frightening can help the performer focus, as can having a person or thing to focus on, like a friend in the front row. A limit on expectations can also reduce stress. For men who experience erectile dysfunction, for example, having a low-key sexual encounter may help reduce the anxiety.

Medications can also treat performance anxiety. Beta blockers for stress are an option a doctor may consider if the anxiety is severe or becomes debilitating. Sometimes treating underlying depression or other mental health issues with medications can also help with anxiety. Anti-anxiety drugs may need to be adjusted to find one that works just right for the patient, and it can help to experience low-pressure situations first.

Support from friends, family, and fellow performers, depending on the context, can also be helpful. Many musicians with performance anxiety rely on fellow members of the band or orchestra to help them overcome initial nerves and settle into the performance, for instance.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Jul 27, 2013

@anamur-- First of all, stop worrying. This is precisely why you are having performance anxiety, because you are too worried about getting things right. You are putting pressure on yourself and stressing yourself out.

You need to just stop thinking about it. Don't think about what your partner is thinking and what will happen if you don't perform as expected. Otherwise, it's going to become a vicious cycle.

If you just concentrate on your partner and the feelings you have for him or her, it will be a lot easier. And you're not the only one going through this, performance anxiety in men is very common.

By serenesurface — On Jul 26, 2013

Does anyone have any tips for overcoming performance anxiety in the bedroom?

I recently started experiencing this and I'm very worried.

By ZipLine — On Jul 25, 2013

I'm a musician and I have performance anxiety. When I'm about to go on stage, I start sweating and shaking. My heart pounds and I turn red. It's very embarrassing and it only makes my fear of the stage worse.

I had actually almost given up on performing until I saw a doctor who was very helpful. He prescribed a medication for me, a blood pressure reducing medication, to take before going on stage. This medication has made a huge difference. It calms me and prevents performance anxiety symptoms. I have been performing for the past three months without any issues.

If there are any other musicians out there who are experiencing the same problems, please see a doctor. There is a treatment for this, it doesn't have to be this way.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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