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Stage fright (performance anxiety)

If you dread the thought of getting up in front of a group of people and performing, you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from performance anxiety, commonly called "stage fright." In fact, most people would rather get the flu than perform. Athletes, musicians, actors and public speakers often get performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety can prevent you doing what you enjoy and can affect your career. Worst of all, performance anxiety can negatively affect your self-esteem and self-confidence. Although it may be impossible to totally overcome performance anxiety, there are many things you can do to control your emotions and reduce anxiety.

Performance anxiety symptoms

Being the centre of attention and having all eyes on you can be stressful. Your body reacts to this situation in much the same way as it would if you were being attacked. Your body's "fight-or-flight" mechanism kicks in, which is why symptoms of stage fright are similar to symptoms that occur when you are in real danger.

Performance anxiety symptoms may include:

  • Racing pulse and rapid breathing
  • Dry mouth and tight throat
  • Trembling hands, knees, lips and voice
  • Sweaty and cold hands
  • Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
  • Vision changes

Performance anxiety causes

Simply put, stress and anxiety about performing in front of people causes performance anxiety. Confronting your fears and vulnerabilities, accepting yourself for who you are and not feeling like you have to prove yourself to others is the first step towards overcoming performance anxiety. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, nobody expects you to be perfect and it is OK to make mistakes.

The second step is learning how to redirect your negative thoughts, beliefs, images and predictions about performing in public. Doing this is not as hard as you might think.

Performance anxiety treatments

Here are 10 tips to help you overcome your fears and shine on stage, on the pitch or at the podium:

  • Be prepared: practise, practise and practise.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar intake the day of the performance. Eat a sensible meal a few hours before you are to perform so that you have energy and don't get hungry. A low-fat meal including complex carbohydrates - wholegrain pasta, pizza or a bean and rice chilli - is a good choice.
  • Shift the focus away from yourself and your fear to the enjoyment you are providing to the spectators. Close your eyes and imagine the audience laughing and cheering, and you feeling good.
  • Don't focus on what could go wrong. Instead focus on the positive. Visualise your success.
  • Avoid thoughts that produce self-doubt.
  • Practise controlled breathing, meditation, biofeedback and other strategies to help you relax and redirect your thoughts when they turn negative. It is best to practise some type of relaxation technique every day, regardless of whether you have a performance, so that the skill is there for you when you need it.
  • Take a walk, jump up and down, shake out your muscles or do whatever feels right to ease your anxious feelings before the performance.
  • Connect with your audience - smile, make eye contact and think of them as friends.
  • Act naturally and be yourself.
  • Exercise, eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep and live a healthy lifestyle.

Bear in mind that stage fright is usually worse before the performance and often goes away once you get started.

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