Performance Anxiety

By Dan O'Connell •  Updated: 05/25/23 •  9 min read

Performance anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that affects people about to perform in public. It can take many forms, from feeling tense and worried before an event to experiencing physical symptoms like nausea, sweating, or even a racing heartbeat. 

People affected by performance anxiety often feel overwhelmed and out of control when performing in front of an audience. Performance anxiety affects different people in different ways depending on their circumstances. 

For some, it may be a fear of not finding the right words or forgetting their lines, while for others, it may simply be the fear of being judged negatively by others. It can affect both experienced performers and those new to performing, regardless of age or level of expertise. 

To better understand performance anxiety, looking at the underlying causes, such as fear of failure, stress, lack of experience or preparation, and even perfectionism and low self-esteem, is essential. 

Performance anxiety can cause physical distress, including light-headedness, trembling sensations, nausea, and rapid breathing, as well as psychological symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and negative thoughts about how they will perform. 

What Performance Anxiety Is and Why It Can Be a Challenge for Athletes?

Performance anxiety is the feeling of nervousness or fear about a specific situation, such as a sporting event. It can be triggered by the pressure to perform well or the fear of failure to meet expectations from oneself and peers. 

Performance anxiety can affect an athlete’s focus, concentration, and confidence leading to and during competitions or other sporting events. This can increase physical tension, impeding an athlete’s ability to perform at their best. 

Furthermore, it can cause issues such as poor quality sleep, lack of enjoyment in the sport, and feeling overwhelmed with stress and pressure. 

Athletes need to recognize when performance anxiety is affecting them so that they may take steps to address it effectively. This could include focusing on positive thinking, being mindful while training and competing, engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualizing success, and seeking psychological support, among other strategies.

How Can Performance Anxiety Manifest Itself in Various Ways?

Performance anxiety can manifest itself in various ways, both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, it can result in fear, worry, and apprehension, leading to an inability to focus correctly or think clearly. 

Physically, it can lead to heightened adrenaline levels, resulting in increased heart rate and sensations of nausea or dizziness. In extreme cases, it can manifest as debilitating panic attacks or intense physical symptoms such as trembling hands and an inability to speak clearly or confidently. 

Furthermore, anxiety may significantly impact performance by leading to errors in execution and clouded judgment. To combat the effects of performance anxiety, individuals should develop techniques for managing stress and learning to maintain mental clarity amidst the pressures of performance situations.

Why All Athletes, Regardless of Skill Level, Can Be Affected By Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety is an often overlooked issue that can impact athletes of any skill level. It is typically defined as an individual’s extreme stress and worry caused by the pressure of competing or performing physical activities. 

It can cause athletes to experience a lack of focus and confidence, increased physical tension, and feelings of dread or uncertainty about their performance. 

These issues may be exacerbated at the professional level due to higher levels of competition and media scrutiny. But amateur and recreational athletes may also suffer from performance anxiety due to their personal expectations or the expectations from coaches and family members. 

In either case, it is essential to understand why performance anxiety affects all athletes regardless of skill level. One explanation could be that every athlete wants to do well, and there is always a fear of not meeting their standards or those imposed on them by outside sources such as coaches or parents. 

These expectations can become so overwhelming that they negatively impact their ability to perform at peak levels during competition. 

Additionally, because many sports require discipline, focus, and concentration, any minor signs of stress can lead to disruption in an athlete’s performance routine, which leads them to feel anxious about how they will do their activities.

The Sources of Performance Anxiety

The External Pressures That May Trigger This Type of Anxiety

Exploring external pressures that may trigger anxiety can be beneficial to understanding and managing it. Internal and external factors, such as stress, trauma, or a change of environment, can trigger worry. 

External pressures could include situations involving family and friends, work, school, or anything else that may cause you to feel overwhelmed or out of control. Identifying these triggers will help you develop strategies to cope with your anxiety. 

It is important to remember that these triggers are not always negative and can even be positive life changes that bring about feelings of uncertainty or worry. Addressing these issues with the help of a qualified professional can help provide insight into how best to handle anxiety-provoking situations.

The Internal Worries and Fears That May Lead to Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety is a feeling of overwhelming dread or fear when an individual has to perform or compete. This can lead to physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and stomach upset. 

One of the most common causes of performance anxiety is the fear of failure. Individuals may also feel overwhelmed by the expectations from themselves or others. 

Other sources of performance anxiety can include a lack of preparation, inability to focus, or difficulty understanding what is being asked. Furthermore, individuals with low self-esteem are more likely to experience performance anxiety due to fear of judgment and comparison.

Anxiety can also be created by worrying about past and future performances and imagining worst-case scenarios that could occur during these events. Negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations can also contribute to this type of anxiety. 

To manage performance anxiety, individuals must identify their triggers and develop strategies for reducing stress levels and improving confidence in their abilities. 

This can include creating achievable goals while remaining realistic, focusing on positive self-talk, and practice-related activities such as rehearsing speeches or sports drills before an event or competition.

The Physical and Mental Consequences of Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety is a widespread phenomenon, particularly among athletes and performers. It consists of physical and mental symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating fear. 

Physically, performance anxiety can be expressed through shallow breathing, rapid heart rate, nausea, trembling or shaking hands, dizziness, and feeling disconnected from one’s body. Mentally, performance anxiety can manifest as intrusive thoughts about failure or embarrassment and an inability to focus on the task. 

It can also lead to avoidance behaviors such as procrastination or refusal to accept challenges outside one’s comfort zone. The consequences associated with performance anxiety are far-reaching. 

Chronic stress caused by constantly feeling anxious about performing a specific task can cause physical ailments like headaches and digestive issues. Performance anxiety can also overwhelm an individual leading them to feel helplessness or powerlessness in the face of a challenge.

This, in turn, can lead to feelings of worthlessness or depression and the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as isolation or over-indulgence in food or alcohol. 

Furthermore, contributing to a decrease in self-confidence may prevent individuals from taking credit for the successes they have achieved despite their fears.

Strategies for Managing Performance Anxiety

How Maintaining a Positive Mindset Can Help Manage Performance Anxiety

Maintaining a positive mindset is an essential tool to help manage performance anxiety. By focusing on the positive aspects of performance, you can help lift yourself out of a potentially vicious cycle of worrying and doubting yourself. 

Positive thinking can also clarify what needs to be done to achieve success. Instead of dreading or being fearful of failure, reframing that feeling into something constructive and uplifting can be incredibly helpful in managing stress and anxiety associated with performance. 

Developing a mantra or phrase with a special meaning for you and repeating it during tough times can also help keep your mind focused on the positives. 

Lastly, remembering that every challenging experience is temporary helps maintain courage and resilience when fear takes root in your head.

Importance of Mental Preparation

Mental preparation is a crucial aspect of any successful endeavor. Visualization techniques, such as picturing oneself confidently accomplishing a task, can help to create the positive mindset necessary for success. 

Additionally, allowing oneself to experience both positive and negative emotions can be beneficial as it will enable one to acknowledge their feelings and work through them instead of bottling them up or letting them go unnoticed. 

Doing this often helps people stay motivated and focused on their goals, even when things get tough. 

Furthermore, mental preparation helps form a plan for when an obstacle arises and how to manage it efficiently. Ultimately, mentally preparing oneself is critical to success in any situation.

Importance of Physical Preparation

Physical preparation is an essential part of any activity and should be noticed. Getting adequate rest is necessary to ensure the body is well-rested and energized for the action. 

Staying hydrated during physical activities will prevent dehydration, exhaustion, and cramps. Additionally, being aware of one’s body in terms of proper posture and breathing techniques helps with relaxation and allows an individual to maintain their focus during physical activities.

Good posture helps balance and stability, while breathing techniques help oxygenate the blood and improve endurance. Furthermore, stretching before physical activity can help reduce soreness after exercise by loosening up muscles and improving flexibility. 

All these elements combined ensure that a person is physically prepared for any action they are about to undertake, be it recreational or competitive.


Athletes must remember that performance anxiety is a normal part of the competition and can be managed through proper preparation, practice, and practical tools and strategies. 

With the proper mental preparation, athletes can learn to control their emotions and use the fear of performance anxiety to focus and improve their performance. 

Having a positive attitude and using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization exercises, self-talk interventions, and cognitive behavior therapy are all proven methods that athletes can use to help them manage their performance anxiety. 

Additionally, coaches play an important role in assisting athletes in understanding how they can best utilize these tools. 

To effectively manage and use performance anxiety in competitions, athletes must have a strong understanding of what works for them specifically—in terms of both physical and mental preparation—to ensure peak performance.

Dan O'Connell