According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI, around 40 million adults are living with an anxiety disorder. There are various types of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, and separation anxiety. Although performance anxiety is not specifically listed, many health professionals have linked it with social anxiety.
Performance anxiety occurs when an individual has an excessive feeling of fear or worry about not being able to accomplish something specific or the consequences of not being able to perform well (“Performance Anxiety: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & More”). Although this is a real disorder that people struggle with, many people do not recognize it as such and often relate it to “just being shy”. Performance anxiety can affect both children and adults and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include increased heart rate, dizziness, unsettled stomach, sweating, pale skin, thoughts of failure, and thoughts of negative outcomes. Everyone can develop different symptoms and react uniquely.
Performance anxiety is extremely common, and some people may not be aware that they have it. Preparing for events and tasks can help to reduce performance anxiety. This could entail improving, training, and rehearsing the abilities needed to execute properly. People suffering with performance anxiety can seek treatment through various methods including psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy is a form of talk therapy and can help develop coping mechanisms to help individuals who struggle with symptoms. Medication can also be used to help reduce performance anxiety. Most medications prescribed to treat performance anxiety are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. No matter which route you choose, psychotherapy and medication are options that can help reduce the stress of living with performance anxiety.
From personal experience, performance anxiety can be extremely hard to live with. I do not have a professional diagnosis for performance anxiety however, it is still very real and is not a fun time especially while in college. I first started noticing my symptoms when I was in high school. I have always been a shy person and did not think my symptoms were even symptoms. When I was a senior, I went to my first therapist and realized that what I was experiencing was in fact anxiety. I often struggle in silence and not many people are aware of how the simplest tasks can be hard for me to achieve.
The situations vary, some are recurring and sometimes there are new ones. Some situations are very simple like talking on the phone. Although I am 21 and should be able to order a pizza by myself, it is a battle. This has been a problem since I was in high school. I always try to do online ordering or emailing to avoid talking on the phone. For me, it is not just restaurants or businesses, it is also with family. I try to text people for the most part and only answer phone calls if it is my parents or something important. When I know I must talk on the phone, I have a difficult time swallowing as if I am swallowing the words I need to say. I feel as though my voice will sound more childlike or that they will not take me seriously. Despite these challenges, I have been growing as an individual and learning new ways to help with my fears.
Performance anxiety is different for everyone. For me, it makes simple tasks hard. Other people may experience more or less severe symptoms, but all symptoms are valid. Anxiety can be treated and there is no shame in asking for help. Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses around the world and you never know who may be struggling. It is always good to check in on friends and family and advocate if needed. Everyone is entitled to living a carefree life.
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Featured Image via Sydney Sims