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#103: The Psychology Behind Performance Anxiety and How to Overcome It

The Psychology Behind Performance Anxiety and How to Overcome It - Rebecca Reid Vocal Studio

Performance anxiety is a natural response to the pressure of performing in front of others.

Whether it's stepping onto a stage, delivering a speech, playing an instrument, or even engaging in a competitive sport, this type of anxiety can manifest in various ways.

It's that flutter in the stomach, the racing heartbeat, the sweaty palms—those physical sensations that accompany the fear of being evaluated or judged during a performance.

Common manifestations of performance anxiety include:

  • Physical Symptoms: Rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, or nausea.

  • Cognitive Distortions: Negative self-talk, catastrophic thinking, or excessive worry about mistakes.

  • Behavioural Signs: Avoidance of performances, difficulty concentrating, or experiencing a 'blank mind.'

Beyond the surface-level symptoms, understanding the psychology behind performance anxiety is important.

It's more than just feeling nervous; it's a complex interplay of psychological factors that affect how we perceive and respond to performance-related situations.

The significance lies in recognising that performance anxiety isn't a sign of weakness or incompetence but a natural reaction rooted in our psychological makeup.

Exploring its psychological aspects can unveil the triggers, thought patterns, and behavioural responses that contribute to this anxiety.

By understanding these underlying mechanisms, individuals can develop targeted strategies to effectively manage and eventually overcome performance anxiety.

In this blog post, we'll delve deeper into the psychological intricacies of performance anxiety.

We'll explore the factors that contribute to its development, the cognitive and behavioural aspects that perpetuate it, and most importantly, practical techniques and strategies to navigate and triumph over these challenges.

Understanding the psychology behind performance anxiety is the first step toward empowerment and reclaiming confidence in one's abilities.

Performance anxiety is a shared experience among many individuals, regardless of their expertise or background.

By shedding light on its psychological components, we aim to provide insights and actionable steps to help individuals not only manage but thrive in performance situations.


Understanding Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety triggers the body's innate "fight-or-flight" response—a primal survival mechanism designed to prepare us to face threats.

When stepping into a performance situation, this response can activate, leading to a surge of adrenaline and cortisol, preparing the body for action.

However, in the context of a performance, this response can manifest as heightened anxiety, causing physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, and a rush of nerves.

Numerous psychological triggers also contribute to performance anxiety.

These triggers vary from person to person and can include past negative experiences, fear of judgment, pressure to perform, or even a lack of self-confidence.

Moreover, the anticipation of failure or the desire for perfection can intensify anxiety levels.

Understanding these triggers is essential as they shape an individual's perception of the performance situation.

Identifying and addressing these triggers can significantly alleviate anxiety and empower individuals to manage their responses effectively.

Perfectionism, fear of failure, and self-doubt are common psychological elements that intensify performance anxiety.

  • Perfectionism: The pursuit of flawlessness can create unrealistic expectations. The fear of not meeting these lofty standards can significantly increase anxiety levels.

  • Fear of Failure: The dread of making mistakes or falling short of expectations can be paralysing. The fear of disappointing oneself or others can amplify anxiety to debilitating levels.

  • Self-Doubt: Negative self-assessment and doubts about one's abilities can erode confidence. Constantly questioning one's competence fuels anxiety during performances.

These factors often work in tandem, creating a cycle that feeds into performance anxiety.

Acknowledging these tendencies is important in addressing and dismantling the barriers they create.

Understanding the intricate interplay of these psychological elements in the context of performance anxiety is vital.

It allows individuals to identify their personal triggers and thought patterns, enabling them to adopt targeted strategies to manage and eventually overcome these challenges.


The Psychological Factors at Play

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that contribute to and exacerbate anxiety.

These distortions often involve irrational and negative thoughts that create a distorted view of reality.

In the context of performance anxiety, common cognitive distortions include:

  • Catastrophising: Assuming the worst possible outcome, blowing things out of proportion.

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Seeing situations as purely good or bad, with no middle ground.

  • Mind Reading: Assuming what others are thinking, usually assuming negative judgments.

  • Overgeneralisation: Making broad conclusions based on isolated incidents.

Recognising these distortions is crucial.

They feed into the anxiety cycle, amplifying worries and fuelling the fear associated with performance.

By challenging and reframing these distorted thoughts, individuals can begin to alleviate the anxiety they cause.

Past experiences play a significant role in shaping present anxiety.

Negative experiences, especially those involving criticism, failure, or embarrassment during performances, can leave a lasting impact on one's psyche.

These experiences create a fear of repetition, triggering anxiety in similar situations.

However, it's important to acknowledge that past experiences do not define future outcomes.

Understanding that each performance is a new opportunity can help individuals break free from the shackles of past anxieties and approach each situation with a fresh perspective.

Social and environmental factors also contribute to performance anxiety.

Pressures from peers, family, or societal expectations can intensify the fear of judgment or failure.

The competitive nature of certain environments may heighten the stakes, amplifying anxiety levels.

Moreover, the atmosphere and culture surrounding the performance setting can significantly impact anxiety.

Supportive and encouraging environments can alleviate anxiety, while hostile or overly critical environments can exacerbate it.

Recognising these external influences and their impact on anxiety is vital.

Creating a supportive and nurturing environment can greatly aid individuals in managing performance anxiety, allowing them to focus on their strengths and performance rather than on external pressures.

Understanding these psychological factors helps individuals dissect the root causes of their anxiety.

By identifying these influences, individuals can develop targeted strategies to manage and mitigate the impact of these factors on their performance anxiety.


Coping Strategies and Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques to Manage Anxiety

Mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques are powerful tools for managing anxiety.

Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can help individuals ground themselves in the present moment, reducing the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

These practices promote a sense of calmness and focus, enabling performers to manage their anxiety levels effectively.

Cognitive-Behavioural Strategies for Changing Thought Patterns

Cognitive-behavioural strategies are instrumental in modifying thought patterns associated with performance anxiety.

By challenging and reframing negative thoughts, individuals can alter their perception of the performance situation.

Techniques like cognitive restructuring, where individuals replace irrational thoughts with more rational and realistic ones, help in reducing anxiety and enhancing self-confidence.

Visualisation and Mental Rehearsal for Performance Preparation

Visualisation and mental rehearsal involve mentally simulating a successful performance.

By vividly imagining themselves performing well in a relaxed and confident manner, individuals condition their minds to respond positively to performance situations.

This technique helps reduce anxiety by familiarising performers with the scenario, making it feel less daunting when faced in reality.

Importance of Physical Wellbeing and Its Connection to Psychological State

The connection between physical wellbeing and psychological state is undeniable.

Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet contribute to overall mental and emotional health.

Engaging in physical activity helps reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, the body's natural stress relievers.

Prioritising physical health can significantly improve an individual's ability to cope with performance anxiety.

Recognising the symbiotic relationship between physical and mental wellbeing is important.

Taking care of one's body lays the foundation for a resilient mindset, enabling performers to approach their craft with a balanced and healthier state of mind.

Building Confidence and Resilience

Encouraging Positive Self-Talk and Affirmations

Positive self-talk and affirmations play a pivotal role in boosting confidence and managing performance anxiety.

By consciously replacing self-critical or negative thoughts with encouraging and positive ones, individuals can reframe their mindset.

Affirmations like "I am capable," "I am prepared," or "I am worthy of success" can bolster self-belief and diminish the impact of self-doubt during performances.

Embracing Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process

Mistakes are stepping stones to improvement, not indicators of failure.

Embracing mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process is crucial for overcoming performance anxiety.

Viewing mistakes as opportunities to grow and learn fosters resilience.

Understanding that even the most accomplished performers make mistakes normalises the experience and eases the pressure associated with perfectionism.

Developing a Support Network and Seeking Professional Help If Needed

Having a support network can be immensely beneficial in navigating performance anxiety.

Friends, family, mentors, or fellow performers can provide encouragement, advice, and perspective.

Discussing fears and anxieties with a trusted individual can alleviate the emotional burden and provide valuable support.

Additionally, seeking professional help, such as counselling or therapy, can offer specialised guidance in managing performance anxiety.

Therapists or coaches specialising in performance psychology can provide tailored strategies to address specific concerns and equip individuals with the tools to overcome anxiety effectively.

Recognising the value of both personal support networks and professional guidance is important.

Building a strong support system and being open to seeking professional help when needed can significantly contribute to building resilience and confidence in handling performance anxiety.


Performance anxiety is a multifaceted experience rooted in psychological triggers and responses.

The interplay of cognitive distortions, past experiences, and external factors contributes to the complexity of this anxiety.

Understanding these psychological aspects is essential to effectively address and manage performance anxiety.

For individuals grappling with performance anxiety, implementing targeted strategies can make a significant difference.

Techniques like mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, visualisation, and physical wellbeing practices offer practical ways to manage anxiety.

Embracing positive self-talk, learning from mistakes, and seeking support from a network or professionals are invaluable steps toward overcoming performance anxiety.

Overcoming performance anxiety is a journey that requires patience and persistence.

It's important to acknowledge that progress might be gradual and that setbacks are a natural part of the process.

Encourage yourself to stay committed to the strategies and techniques that work for you.

Consistent practice and a willingness to confront anxiety-provoking situations gradually build resilience and diminish anxiety's grip.

Performance anxiety, though challenging, is a conquerable hurdle.

By delving into the psychology behind it, implementing coping strategies, building resilience, and seeking support when needed, individuals can reclaim their confidence and excel in their performances.

Remember, every small step toward managing anxiety counts.

Be kind to yourself throughout this journey, celebrate your victories, and persevere through the obstacles.

With time, patience, and dedication, you can triumph over performance anxiety and shine in your endeavours.

Found this blog post helpful? Give it a like, share it with your friends, and leave a comment below to let me know how it benefited you!

* Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional or medical advice. Singers and professional voice users should always consult with qualified professionals, such as singing teachers or medical practitioners before making any decisions or taking any actions related to their vocal health and wellbeing.


Further Reading

If you enjoyed reading this post, here are some other blog posts you might find interesting:

Discover the psychology driving performance anxiety and effective methods to conquer it. Dive into triggers, cognitive strategies, and resilience-building techniques to excel in your craft.

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