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.