Advice For Someone With Performance Anxiety
“Was just wondering if you had any tips/ advice on performance anxiety. I was Head girl and a public speaker – but now, in my Masters year, I can not deliver an argument or presentation without stumbling over my words, muddling my thoughts and flushing incredible hues of red… I don’t know if you have any tips or previous articles on the matter?”
I have not written about performance anxiety specifically but from my professional experience I can tell you that the best way to deal with any anxiety is with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
I can tell you a little bit about how it works, but ultimately you need to seek help with a professional CBT therapist.
CBT is really useful because it teaches you how to be your own therapist. A good CBT therapist will be able to help reduce (or eradicate) your symptoms in 6-12 sessions.
The key to CBT is understanding that thoughts (cognitions), feelings (affects), and behaviours (actions) are all linked. If you can work out what thoughts you’re having and how these bring about certain emotions and then subsequently behaviours, then you can also work on changing said thoughts and in turn changing the rest.
For example, perhaps there has been some incident or trauma that got you thinking negatively about yourself. Let’s say that since leaving school, you had a serious boyfriend who used to say nasty things about you or made you feel negative about yourself. Now imagine those things he said became internalised and you started to think that way about yourself. We can always recognise our thoughts or internal dialogue by asking, “what am I saying to myself?”
All of us say really nasty things to ourselves some of the time like, “You are pathetic” “You’re a failure” “You’re never going to succeed in life” “You’re ugly” “You’re fat” etc. Those thoughts also then have an affect on our emotions. Negative thoughts make us feel sad, angry, depressed, disappointed, etc. And these negative feelings then lead to behavioural change, e.g. staying at home (social isolation), over/under-eating, etc.
What happens is these cognitive-emotional-behavioural patterns get repeated over and over and so they are practiced/rehearsed/exercised, which ultimately strengthens them and they become stronger (just like our muscles do when we go to the gym). It’s like we’re training our brains and bodies to work this way. So what might have started out as something about your ex-boyfriend becomes generalized to other areas of your life and the next thing you’re suffering from performance anxiety.
Of course these examples mean nothing to your case because each person’s thinking patterns are unique and need to be explored on an individual basis. Please, if you have the funds, go and speak to a CBT therapist because it will really help!
In the meantime, here is an article I found that may be useful to you. It’s a bit of a “one-size-fits-all” approach but may help.