How to Break the Cycle of Performance Anxiety

By Mark Bowden | Advice

Feb 13
side view of scared businessman in suit holding paper bag and sitting on floor during conference-min

We’ve all been there – you step on stage, and suddenly your throat constricts, your palms sweat and your mind goes blank. You’ve just faced the dreaded performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety is a common problem among people of all ages and backgrounds.

Studies show that millions of people experience some form of stage fright during their lifetime.

Fortunately, there are methods one can take to break this cycle.

In this article, you will learn how to identify signs of performance anxiety and use practical strategies to reduce its effects on your day-to-day life.

What is Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety is a type of anxiety that can occur before or during a performance, such as a presentation, audition, or sporting event.

It is characterized by feelings of nervousness, fear, and worry about how one will be judged or evaluated by others.

What are the Types of Performance Anxiety? 

  1. Stage fright: this type of anxiety refers to being nervous of an individual about performing in front of an audience.
  2. Sexual performance anxiety: refers to worry or fear related to engaging in sex.
  3. Test anxiety: this refers to the feeling of being scared or overwhelmed about taking a test.
  4. Sports performance anxiety: it is a type of anxiety wherein an individual is overwhelmed or scared about competing in a sporting event.
  5. Interview anxiety: a fear or worry around being interviewed.

How do you overcome it?

Beautiful mixed race woman thinking while using laptop for blogging in living room at home.

1. Identify the Sources

Performance anxiety is a common emotional state characterized by stress and worry that can affect an individual’s ability to perform in certain situations.

It may be associated with sexual performance, stage fright, or other forms of public speaking/performances and can even manifest as a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

To better understand how to move forward with breaking this cycle, it is beneficial to become aware of these triggers and their effects on one’s physiology and mental state.

Physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and perspiration are often observed in individuals experiencing high levels of performance-related stress.

Additionally, poor self-confidence stemming from past experiences or negative attitudes toward the situation at hand could contribute to heightened levels of nervousness.

Acknowledging areas where improvement might be necessary will help create a more positive outlook when faced with similar conditions in future endeavors.

Transforming this awareness into actionable steps can help promote greater confidence in stressful situations.


2. Learn Relaxation Techniques

Breathing exercises, meditation, and muscle relaxation can help reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels in the body which is important for reducing stress and managing anxiety.

When coupled with cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, it can provide a powerful strategy to break the cycle.

Mindfulness activities such as meditation, yoga or tai chi have been shown to be effective at calming one’s mind and providing an overall sense of well-being that helps improve focus during performances.

In addition, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) has been used as a therapeutic technique to relax tense muscles throughout the body and promote more natural breathing patterns.

This type of exercise involves tensing specific muscle groups followed by a deep exhale while you slowly release them back into their relaxed state.

PMR has also been linked to improved sleep quality which helps encourage better physical recovery from stressful situations like performing on stage or competing in sports events.

These types of relaxation methods offer immense benefits when incorporated regularly into one’s life and can go a long way toward helping break the cycle of performance anxiety.

Photo of a Sign and Eyeglasses on Table

3. Develop A Positive Attitude

Positive self-talk involves talking to oneself about one’s capabilities in a positive manner. This helps build confidence and reduce stress levels that often accompany performance anxiety.

An example of positive talk might be “I am confident I will do well on my upcoming presentation.”

Additionally, engaging in regular positive affirmations can help boost motivation and minimize fear of failure when facing daunting tasks or difficult social settings.

For instance, repeating phrases like “I am capable” may provide an individual with much-needed reassurance during moments of doubt or apprehension.

Therefore, by having more optimistic thoughts and speaking positively to oneself, one can better equip themselves for success both mentally and emotionally in any situation – whether it be completing a task or navigating through a challenging social setting.

Transitioning from negative thought patterns into proactive ones has been proven to increase productivity and bolster morale significantly – paving the way toward greater accomplishment.

As such, adopting these practices is essential for achieving long-term progress out of the anxious state associated with performance issues.


4. Practice Mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness has been recognized as an effective way to break the cycle of performance anxiety.

To achieve a sense of tranquility and relaxation, it is essential to focus on paying attention to the present moment without judgment or criticism.

Mindfulness can be integrated into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help mitigate feelings of low self-esteem that may accompany this disorder.

Mindfulness works by allowing oneself to accept thoughts and feelings without reacting or trying to change them immediately. It helps one acquire greater awareness in order to identify any unhelpful thought patterns which can contribute towards their performance anxiety levels.

Techniques like meditation, Diaphragmatic Breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are some methods that can be used for achieving mindful states more quickly and efficiently.

Through repeated exposure, these activities become easier with time and effort; eventually helping individuals work through their fear responses associated with performing publicly.

This method allows for meta-cognition – reflecting on our own thoughts and emotions – providing an opportunity for making changes from within rather than externally imposed solutions.

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can assist people struggling with performance anxiety in gaining control over their symptoms while promoting physical and mental well-being.

Female in a blue long sleeve practicing speech in front of a mirror

5. Prepare for your Performance

Preparation for performance is key to reducing anxiety. Start by familiarizing yourself with the material you are going to be performing. Get to know it so well that you feel confident and comfortable.

Practicing with an audience can also help. Make sure you rehearse in front of a few trusted people who will give you honest feedback and won’t be too hard on you.

Set aside time for mental rehearsal as well – visualizing yourself performing and nailing it will help create feelings of security and confidence, reducing feelings of fear or stress. 

Another way to prepare for a meaningful presentation is to arm yourself with knowledge about the topic at hand. Do some research online and read up on topics that might be relevant; this will not only give you more ammunition for self-promotion but also increase your chances of making an impression with the audience. In other words, Know Your Stuff!

Knowing what to expect helps alleviate stress and worry prior to competing in a tournament or performing onstage. It also helps build self-confidence which generates trust in one’s abilities as they take center stage.

The more time invested in preparing for an event beforehand increases one’s chance of success during their actual performance!

Woman With White Sunvisor Running

6. Take Care Of Your Health

The importance of physical health cannot be overstated when managing performance anxiety.

Eating healthy meals on time and getting regular exercise are paramount as they provide the energy needed to stay focused during stressful situations.

Taking these precautions will ensure an individual has all their bases covered while navigating stressful situations which may arise due to work commitments or personal pressures.

Sleeping Man

7. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is an essential component of managing and overcoming performance anxiety.

Studies have shown that people who get a good night’s rest on a regular basis are better able to cope with stress and remain calm in situations where they would normally experience high levels of anxiety.

Those suffering from poor sleep tend to struggle more with regulating their emotions, which can be particularly detrimental when it comes to performing under pressure.

It has also been suggested that lack of sleep increases the risk of developing anxiety disorders, leading to further complications related to managing performance anxiety.

In addition, adequate sleep helps reduce cortisol levels, often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol is linked to feelings of tension and nervousness; thus getting enough sleep will help balance this hormone and lead to improved mental well-being overall.

Individuals struggling with performance anxiety should prioritize sufficient rest each night in order for them to face any stressful situation without fear or apprehension.

By investing in quality sleep habits, those affected by performance anxiety may benefit from feeling more relaxed during challenging tasks.

Moreover, taking care of one’s health through healthy eating, exercise and relaxation techniques can work in tandem with getting enough sleep for long-term positive outcomes related to reducing stress and improving overall emotional regulation skills. 

black female barista serving coffee in cup in cafe

8. Connect With Others

Having someone there who understands what you’re going through makes it easier to manage the symptoms associated with performance anxiety, such as fear of failure or self-doubt.

Talking things out can provide clarity and resolution which often leads to improved confidence levels which is essential for successful performance in any area of life.

With enough practice, connecting with others can lead to better results over time and ultimately break the cycle.

group of people doing fist bump

9. Create A Support Group

Creating a support group provides individuals with a safe and secure space to express their feelings without judgment or criticism.

It also allows them to gain insight from others who are in similar situations, enabling them to better comprehend their struggles and find solutions together.

This will help create an environment where it feels natural to share stories while exploring potential solutions collaboratively.

By creating this sort of forum, individuals are provided with the opportunity to normalize their experiences while developing skills that can be used when dealing with future challenges associated with this issue. 

psychologist taking notes during appointment

10. Talk To An Expert

Seeking out therapy or medical treatment is a potential route for those looking to make headway in breaking the cycle of performance anxiety.

Behavioral therapists focus more on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to the issue at hand.

On the other hand, medical treatments such as medications or psychotherapy might also be beneficial depending on the severity and individual’s needs.

It’s important to remember that everyone experiences performance anxiety differently and it’s normal to feel nervous or scared before doing something important. But, if the anxiety is getting in the way of you doing your best, it might be helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor. They can help you learn ways to manage your anxiety and feel more confident during performances.

practice self-compassion inspirational handwriting on a napkin with coffee, mindset and personal development concept

11. Develop Self-Compassion

Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards oneself, even when faced with difficult or uncomfortable situations.

It also entails recognizing one’s shared humanity as well as acknowledging personal flaws without judgment or criticism.

To cultivate self-compassion, try talking to yourself like you would talk to someone else who was going through something similar – encouragingly and kindly.

Acknowledge your feelings of vulnerability instead of ruminating on them which will help break the cycle of paralyzing performance anxiety.

When developing self-compassion, remember that everyone makes mistakes; focus on learning from these moments rather than shaming yourself for them.

Being compassionate towards oneself allows individuals to express their true emotions while allowing themselves space to grow and develop into better versions of themselves.

With enough practice, this skill can help create lasting changes in behavior and attitude which can lead people away from feeling overwhelmed. 


Successful black company member got promotion or monetary reward feels happy and proud colleagues congratulate him applauding laughing together. Diverse business people celebrating business success

12. Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Performance anxiety can be an incredibly debilitating feeling, leading to a lack of confidence and a negative body image.

It is possible to break this cycle by taking time to celebrate our accomplishments instead of focusing on what we have yet to achieve.

Celebrating our successes helps us build self-esteem, which can lead to increased motivation and improved performance in the future.

Recognizing that we are capable of achieving our goals, regardless of how small or large they may be, allows us to gain a sense of pride in ourselves and instills the belief that anything is achievable with hard work.

Taking moments throughout each day or week to recognize even minor successes can help boost morale and increase energy for tackling harder tasks ahead.

As well as celebrating tangible achievements like completing a project or getting good grades, it’s also important to take pride in smaller daily activities such as making your bed or packing lunch for the next day – these every day wins can compound over time when done consistently.

Acknowledging the progress made through perseverance provides reassurance that you are moving towards your desired outcome; reminding yourself why you started something in the first place can inspire you during times when motivation starts waning.

This newfound appreciation for small victories will fuel hope instead of despair; soon enough, those tiny steps taken today will bring about great results tomorrow.


Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Will It Take To Break The Cycle Of Performance Anxiety?

The amount of time it will take to break the cycle of performance anxiety will vary per individual, but there are a few general factors that influence how long it will take.

The severity and the level of commitment to tackling it are two major determinants in gauging how much time it will take to overcome performance anxiety. Those who face severe levels may find that breaking their cycle takes longer than those who experience milder symptoms.

Similarly, someone who is dedicated and willing to commit sufficient time and energy into practicing relaxation techniques or other therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will likely see a greater reduction in their symptoms over a shorter period than someone who only commits an occasional effort towards managing their anxiety.

Others who don’t seek out any help at all may find that they remain stuck in the same cycle for months or even years on end.

On average, people have to consistently practice calming activities like mindfulness, art therapy, or deep breathing for around 4-5 weeks before they start seeing noticeable improvements in their levels of performance anxiety.


Are There Any Short-Term Strategies For Managing Performance Anxiety?

Yes, there are a few different short-term strategies for managing performance anxiety. These include:

  • Cognitive restructuring. It is an approach that involves reframing thoughts from being generally negative towards something positive or neutral instead. This allows people to challenge their own thinking patterns while also gaining insight into how they are responding to stressors related to performance.
  • Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation have been found effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety before a big event or presentation.
  • Mindfulness meditation. This technique focuses on focusing attention on present-moment experiences in order to reduce rumination about the future or dwelling on past events.
  • Visualization techniques (e.g., imagining yourself playing or competing successfully) and/or visual cues (e.g., pictures or quotes). It helps you ground yourself in the moment and focus on the task at hand.


Can I Use Medication To Manage Performance Anxiety?

Yes, you can use medication to manage performance anxiety. While medications may provide relief from symptoms in the short term, they do not address the underlying causes of performance anxiety and may come with side effects that could make it difficult to perform tasks or activities while under the influence.

Talk to your doctor about whether medication is a safe option for managing your performance anxiety. There are also other strategies that may be more effective at helping to break the cycle without having to rely on medication like the one mentioned above. 

It is important to remember that while medication has its place in managing more severe cases, there are many alternatives available that should be explored first before considering this option.

Consulting with mental health professionals will help ensure that individuals get care tailored specifically to their needs rather than resorting to medication right away.


What Do I Do If I Still Feel Anxious Even After Trying All The Techniques?

Performance anxiety can be a difficult cycle to break. Despite trying various techniques, an individual may still find themselves feeling anxious about their performance. In such cases, it is important to practice self-care and recognize that no one is perfect.

Take a break from any activity which causes stress or worry; this will allow time for rest and relaxation before attempting again. Taking deep breaths or engaging in activities like meditation can also be beneficial for calming down and helping clear the mind. Ultimately, having patience with oneself and allowing room for mistakes are key components of breaking the cycle of performance anxiety.



Performance anxiety is a common experience and can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to control our lives. With the right strategies and techniques, we can break free from the cycle and find confidence in ourselves.

The first step is recognizing that it exists. Once we recognize it for what it is, we are then able to take proactive steps toward managing it. We may try short-term strategies such as mindfulness or relaxation exercises, or even consider using medication if recommended by a doctor. Additionally, developing self-confidence through practice and rehearsal will enable us to feel more comfortable with our performances.

Finally, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or professionals who specialize in mental health services like therapy or counseling.

As the old adage goes “If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again” — this applies here too! It’s important not to give up hope; eventually, something will work and allow us to break free from the grip of performance anxiety and perform at our best.