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Performance Anxiety

By Janet E. Esposito, M.S.W., B.C.D

In The SpotLight, LLC

You may have heard the joke that many people would prefer to be in their own coffins rather than giving a eulogy at someone else’s funeral.  While this may be an exaggeration for most, there are many people who feel as though they would rather die than give a speech or presentation.  These people often go to great lengths to avoid speaking in front of groups if there is any way to get out of it.  Similarly, many performers experience feelings of terror when faced with giving performances in public.

While most people feel some degree of nervous apprehension when preparing to speak up or perform in front of a group, there are many people who are filled with feelings of dread and panic when facing such a situation.  For many, these symptoms arise not only in situations of formal presentations or performances, but also in other situations where the person might be center of attention, such as with group introductions in a class or work setting, participation at meetings, interviews, auditions, doing a toast at a wedding, or a reading at church. 

When a person experiences such a high level fear of speaking or performing in front of others, they are often suffering from a specific form of Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder).  The individual’s primary worry becomes one of embarrassing him or herself in front of others.  People with social anxiety related to speaking or performing fear that their anxiousness will show and that they will be judged harshly by others.  The characteristics of someone with this type of Social Anxiety include:

·         an immediate surge of intense anxiety when you learn you will need to speak or perform in front of others

·         avoiding giving presentations or performances if you can get out of doing them

·         a lot of anxious anticipation about your presentation or performance ahead of time (known as anticipatory anxiety)

·         worrying about embarrassing yourself in front of others and looking like a fool if people see how anxious you are

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