The Secret of How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

Mark ReaganPerformance, Stress Management4 Comments

How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

Last night I competed in a speech contest.

I’m part of Toastmasters. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an organization that helps people develop their public speaking and leadership skills.

This month kicks off Toastmasters’ contest season, and I competed last night in the first round at my local club.

It’s my first time competing, and I was stressed to say the least. So were all the other contestants.

One of them said to me, “I have never been this nervous.”

Whether you call it nerves, say you’ve got “butterflies” in our stomach or are tense, it’s all stress (or “performance anxiety” as it’s often called).

Speaking in front of a group is an obvious source of stress for people (it is supposedly the #1 fear in the world), but there are other sources of performance anxiety.

  • Any kind of competition
  • Tests
  • Those dreaded job interviews

There’s a common way we often try to deal with performance anxiety, and it doesn’t work. In fact, it makes things far worse.

How to Sabotage Your Performance

Do you want to completely sabotage your performance? Do you want to make sure you choke? Do you want to lose all confidence and guarantee that you fail?

If so, you’re in luck! All you have to do is try and… relax.

Yes. Relaxation kills your performance.

If we feel stressed out and tell ourselves to relax, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Because that’s telling ourselves that the stress – the performance anxiety – we’re feeling is bad for us.

But if you care about your performance (which you should), you’re going to feel stress. Everyone does. If you think stress is a sign you’re going to choke and then try to reduce it, what’s going to happen?

You’re going to feel it anyway, and look at it as a sign that you’re going to mess up.

It quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that you’re going to choke.

What do we do instead?

From Threat to Challenge

One way to look at stress is distress and eustress. Distress is “bad” stress, and eustress is “good” stress.

I don’t like that way of looking at stress, because it’s not something that’s good or bad. Stress is a survival mechanism, so to me, distress and eustress is an outdated way of looking at it.

Instead, let’s look at the type of response it is. Stress can be a threat response, or it can be a challenge response.

A threat response is your standard “flight-or-flight” response. It’s there to help us survive and escape from threats. That’s how most people feel about public speaking.

You’re about to stand in front of a group of people, completely exposed and vulnerable. If you mess up, you could look like a total fool and they might burn you at the stake!

Ok, so maybe that last part won’t happen… but if you’re trying to get rid of your stress and “just relax” before your speech, that’s basically what you’re telling yourself is going to happen.

There’s another way to look at it, and you can change your threat response into a challenge response.

What’s the difference?

A challenge response helps you perform at your best. It gives you confidence instead of taking it away. It helps you rise to the occasion.

It can feel very similar to a threat response, the difference is entirely in how we view the stress we’re feeling.

You can take that threat response, and instead change it into a challenge response. And thankfully it’s not too hard (although it can take some practice).

The Secret of How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

It only takes a few steps to get yourself on the way to performing at your best when you’re feeling nervous before a performance.

1. Everyone Feels Stress

Realize when you’re feeling stressed out that everyone feels it. Remind yourself that it’s natural, and that you’re feeling stressed because there’s something you care about.

You might care about giving a good impression to your audience. Doing well on the test. Getting the job you’re interviewing for.

Feeling stress isn’t a sign that you’re going to do badly. It would only be concerning if you didn’t feel stress.

2. You Can’t Perform at Your Best Without Feeling Stressed

Realize you can’t perform at your best if you don’t feel stress. Those pre-performance butterflies help us get in the zone. In fact, we can’t get in the zone without feeling stress. (For more, read the book Flow by Dr. Mihaly Cskszentmihaly).

Next time you feel performance anxiety, instead of thinking it’s going to sabotage you, realize that it’s there to help you instead.

3. Change Your Anxiety into Excitement

When you feel nervous before any kind of performance, tell yourself you’re excited instead. This can take some practice, and you might not believe yourself at first (but hey, it’s backed up by science).

I used to think I was nervous before I give any kind of speech or performance in any capacity. Now, I never tell myself I’m nervous.

I feel my stress and look at it that it’s there to help me, and notice that I’m excited.

That changes your stress into a challenge response, and helps you perform at your best.

What if I don’t believe that’s possible?

You might not believe any of what I’ve just written. That’s ok.

Ask yourself, “Are there people who thrive in a performance?”

The answer is yes, of course. So it must not be the situation that determines the outcome, it’s how the person views it.

If you practice the previous steps, it’s going to go a long way to help you deal with your performance anxiety.

There is, of course, more you can do, the biggest one is to be well prepared and practice. If you’re giving a presentation and haven’t practiced at all, that’s going to be a great way to sabotage yourself.

Same thing with an interview, or a test.

I was in the boy scouts for a year as a kid. Their motto is “be prepared.”

It’s normal to feel stressed out before performing. If you’re nervous right before you perform, it’s going to help you.

If you’re stressed out well before your performance, it’s a signal for you to practice and prepare. Research techniques you can use. Find a friend to help you (like giving you practice interviews before the actual one).

It’s Your Choice

I label myself as a stress management coach because it’s easy to understand. But really, it’s not about managing your stress but channeling it so it works for you instead of against you.

As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”

He’s right, and it’s your choice how you want to view performance anxiety. If you view it as something that’s going to sabotage you, it will.

If you view it as something that’s going to help you, it will.

How do you want to view it?


Denver Hypnosis for Fear of Public Speaking


Of course, with performance anxiety it’s not a rational state. So why not take a short cut and go right to the unconscious part of the mind instead? With hypnosis, we can dissolve those fears using the power of your mind.

Imagine you’re that person, speaking in front of others with confidence. It might seem like a distant goal, but it’s completely possible… and in a shorter time than you might think.  Click here to learn more about hypnosis for fear of public speaking or call me at 720-382-0223 for your free consultation.



4 Comments on “The Secret of How to Overcome Performance Anxiety”

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