Everyone knows a certain tension or performance anxiety with a difficult task. It motivates you to do your best and it can be very helpful in achieving a good performance, such as giving a speech, taking an exam or writing a paper. The tension gives you an impulse and ensures that you can act in a focused and alert manner. After completing the difficult task, the stress will diminish on its own.
What is performance anxiety?
When you suffer from performance anxiety, you have a persistent and often irrational fear of failure. You are afraid of making mistakes, doing something wrong, or not performing well enough. Fear of failure manifests itself in all kinds of situations in which you are judged by others or by yourself. You want to do something right so badly, that you are afraid that you cannot meet your own expectations or the expectations of others. You can block, postpone tasks or work extra hard.
However, if you are extremely afraid of failure, this can become a problem. You are so tense that you can no longer concentrate properly and make many more mistakes than usual. You can even end up in a vicious circle. You can then suffer from negative thoughts (‘I can’t do it’), worry, sweat, tremble, insomnia, blackouts, etc. Because of your fear of failure you underperform, which is a confirmation for you that ‘you indeed cannot’. For the next time you are even more fearful of failure, because it ‘went wrong the last time’. Or you prepare less or not at all, because you think ‘it will fail anyway’. The result is that your fear of failure is maintained or gets worse.
Types of performance anxiety
Performance anxiety can manifest itself in different situations and can be divided into cognitive performance anxiety, social performance anxiety and motor performance anxiety, of which cognitive performance anxiety is the best known variant.
Cognitive performance anxiety
With cognitive performance anxiety, you are afraid that you have not learned well enough or that your knowledge is insufficient. You have been nervous for an exam days in advance, so you cannot sleep well or suffer from stomach aches or headaches. The fear of failure predominates, causing you to underperform.
Within the cognitive performance anxiety category, a distinction can be made between two types of performance anxiety: active performance anxiety or passive performance anxiety. People with active performance anxiety work hard, want to do everything without mistakes and aim for optimal performance. By working hard, they try to minimize the chance of failure. This requires a lot of energy, you continue to work in detail on your paper or you cannot stop preparing and practicing your presentation.
People with passive performance anxiety often procrastinate and try to avoid the situation that provokes the fear. They do not believe that their efforts can achieve anything and therefore they either postpone their task for as long as possible or they do not carry out the task at all.
Social performance anxiety
Social performance anxiety is reflected in your contacts with others, you are afraid to say or do something wrong. You find it very important what someone else thinks of you and you are afraid that you will not be considered nice, smart or good enough. This form of performance anxiety can play a role, for example, in meeting new people, applying for a job or giving a presentation.
Motor performance anxiety
Motor performance anxiety has everything to do with physical actions. You are physically able to perform the actions, but the tension makes it difficult. This can happen during a sports match (you make a lot of unnecessary mistakes), during a party with many strangers (you knock over a glass) or during creative assignments (drawing or painting).
Symptoms of performance anxiety
Signs of performance anxiety can include:
- feelings of insecurity;
- low or negative self-esteem;
- fear of criticism;
- worries and negative thoughts;
- avoiding new or difficult situations;
- studying or working below your level;
- difficulty passing tests or exams;
- long working on the same assignment;
- suffer from stress, tension or blackouts.
In addition, you can suffer from physical symptoms such as: palpitations, headache, sleep problems, hyperventilation, stomach pain, nausea, shaking or sweating. These symptoms sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.
What are the causes of performance anxiety?
Performance anxiety can be related to a negative or low self-esteem. Due to the constant comparison with others, it can happen that you set the bar very high or even too high for yourself. This makes it almost impossible to achieve your own goals, which can lead to fear of failure. You will avoid challenges or new situations for fear of failure. And if this is unavoidable, your performance will be negatively affected by uncertainty and tension.
Perfectionism and performance anxiety also often go together. You strive for a perfect performance, you do not allow yourself any mistakes and you are not satisfied with a mediocre performance. And precisely because you put extreme pressure on yourself, the fear of failure increases.
In children, performance anxiety can develop if the parents or the teacher set too high standards at school and the child feels a strong pressure to perform, but cannot meet the requirements set. But negative experiences such as being bullied, hurt or ignored can also affect your self-confidence, which can lead to feelings of insecurity and fear of failure.
Treatment of performance anxiety
If your performance anxiety is hindering your daily life, it is wise to seek professional help to overcome your anxiety. During the conversations, we identify the cause of your performance anxiety. We help you to see your own performance or behavior more realistically, so that your self-image will become more positive and your self-confidence will grow. Any avoidance or procrastination behavior is also addressed during the treatment.
Please read our Performance anxiety treatment page if you would like to know how we can help you with your performance anxiety.
Contact Psychologen Amsterdam
Do you recognize your symptoms and do you need help or do you just have a question about the treatment of your performance anxiety? Then call for an appointment or send a message to practice Psychologen Amsterdam.