Reduce Anxiety & Stress

How to Overcome Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety

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My first experience with performance anxiety was traumatizing.

I was working with a group for a business consulting class where we worked with a local business owner put together a strategy for growth to present to the local chamber of commerce. This was important because it was to help get this business a much-needed loan.

I presented to 50+ people and I totally bombed. Like totally bombed.

I started okay but quickly lost my train of thought. I paused and the pressure grew around me. I tried to keep talking but I began sinking away from my body as it stood there. I could hear my heartbeat but not much more than that. I no longer had control over the words I was saying… I couldn’t snap out of it. So after what seemed like forever, I walked off stage and out the door.

To this day, I’m embarrassed by this performance and for many years, I cursed my body/mind for letting this happen. On the positive side, this gave me a relentless drive to stop this from happening ever again.

Given your interest here, I suspect you may have the same drive. Let’s break down the different types of stage fright, what causes it, and then we’ll focus on the best ways to overcome.

What is Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety is fear driven by thoughts of performing a specific task. For instance, worries about an upcoming public speech, also called stage fright, is a type of performance anxiety. You can experience performance anxiety in meetings at work, in an interview, on a date, or even during sex. It’s a constant fear, anxiety, or phobia of the requirement to perform a task.

The severity of can range from being a little nervous to a full-blown panic attack (as described in my story above). Wherever you fall on the spectrum don’t worry, there’s room for improvement!

Stage Fright Symptoms

Performance anxiety symptoms can differ based on the intensity and how your body deals with stress. As you may already know, these are triggered by your body’s “fight-or-flight” response to perceived danger. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • shaking or twitching
  • Trembling voice, lips, and hands
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision, or changed vision

What Causes Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety and stage fright starts with the fear that we won’t be good enough, that we won’t achieve perfection. From there it can lead to a slippery slope of self-doubt.

Similar to other types of anxiety, there isn’t always a clear explanation as to why this is happening to you. It’s driven by your body’s natural reaction to protect itself, despite not being in any real danger.

Those of us that struggle with social anxiety (me included) often have a harder time with public speaking, interviews, or presentations.

How to Overcome Stage Fright

While there aren’t any magical performance anxiety treatments (at least that I’m aware of), there are things you can do to help ease the stress and get you on a road to recovery. There are tips to manage anxiety while you’re performing but there’s also a lot you can do before the big event to get ready.

Take care of your body and mind before your performance as much as you can control. Remember, this is your body, you’re in control!

  • Decrease Caffeine – Too much coffee can increase feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Drink water – Staying hydrated can reduce the intensity of anxiety
  • Limit / eliminate sugar – Sugar can increase anxiety
  • Eat a solid meal – healthy fats and proteins are the best
  • Get sleep – go to bed early the night before
  • Practice, practice, practice – make sure to continue even after making mistake (don’t start over). This is good training to course correct after making a mistake
  • Exercise – I personally love pushing out the extra energy with a high-intensity workout
  • Self-care – take a bath, get a massage, or even read a book with a candle lit. You deserve it.

If you have more time before the performance you may also consider meditation, herbal supplements, or therapy.

Meditation for Performance Anxiety

I’ve been meditating for 15 minutes a day for the past 14 months and it’s been a game-changer. It took about 3 weeks of consistent meditating to start seeing the results, so stick with it even if you don’t see the instant results.

Meditating has helped calm some of the self-doubt and circular thoughts that grow anxiety before the performance. More importantly, I’m able to pull out of the circular thought patterns and stop panic attacks before they start. When negative thoughts come, acknowledge them, let them pass, and then correct the thought with conscious mind.

You may not be able to control your subconscious thoughts but you can control your conscious thoughts!

Supplements for Performance Anxiety

I’ve also had personal success overcoming performance anxiety with supplements. These aren’t magical cures but the may help in your journey to manage stage fright.

Ashwagandha can help with anxiety and so can minerals such as Magnesium. Our favorite type of is magnesium glycinate for its ability to absorb into the body without disrupting your stomach.

Calm Now is another supplement we reviewed that combines Ashwagandha, B-Vitamins, and other soothing herbs that can help bring your body back into a state of balance.

Managing Stage Fright in the Moment

The prep you do before the performance is important but there are also tips and tricks you can do in the moment to help get you through it.

I’ll say, these are the hardest to follow because well… these are easier said than done. But that’s why you can practice these so start to feel like second nature!

  • Shift your focus to the audience rather than yourself. You’re doing this for them!
  • If possible, make connections with the audience. Something as simple as a smile or greeting can bring you back to earth
  • Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes. If it happens, accept and move on.
  • Stand or sit in a confident position. Head up and straight back, no slouching!
  • Pick a focal point. Use a far-off point in the distance
  • Breathe – Fight the reflex to take short, shallow breaths. Take slow, deep breaths.

You Got This

Most of us get nervous before presentations and public speaking. It’s a natural reaction so it’s important not to beat yourself up. You can do this!! Make sure to stick to your plan, dedicate plenty of time to prepare and have fun with it.

I look forward to hearing about your next performance, you’re going to knock it out of the park 🙂

Marc is the creator of Mindful Searching, a content site dedicated to providing actionable, unbiased tips to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve cognitive performance. He's struggled with social anxiety for many years. Over the last 5 years, Marc has been researching and testing lifestyle changes, products, and techniques to build a happier, healthier, anxiety-free life.