Don’t Let Performance Anxiety Get the Best of You

Are you experiencing performance anxiety and are unsure of what you can do about it? Well, don’t let performance anxiety get the best of you! For tips on what you can do when you feel that anxiety is preventing you from performing to the best of your ability, I have interviewed Psychotherapist Laurel B. Steinberg, LMHC.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Licensed Psychotherapist working near Manhattan’s Union Square. I trained in Psychotherapy at NYU and obtained further education at the Albert Ellis Institute and the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists. I primarily treat anxiety, depression, addiction, and relationship and sexual issues. Although my patients are varied in age and life experiences, all are seeking to change their thinking, emotions and behavior to improve their lives. To learn more about my work, you may visit my website: www.LaurelSteinberg.com “

What type of tasks can people feel anxious about and how can that anxiety hinder performance?
“If you name any task, I guarantee that someone, somewhere, thinks that performing it is a terrible nightmare. In my practice, the three tasks most frequently reported by patients to give rise to performance anxiety are sex, public speaking and social interactions. Patients are erroneously convinced that they must perform their feared task perfectly at all times, or they will be thought of by others as horrible and worthless. These worriers are their own harshest critics; inflicting so much pressure on themselves that they are unable to maintain erections, speak intelligibly to groups, or comfortably meet with people in dating or professional situations. Even Superman would have problems performing well under those circumstances. Extreme anxiety and excellent performance have proven to be mutually exclusive.”

What can people do when they feel that anxiety is preventing them from performing to the best of their abilities?
“A little anxiety can be useful, reminding us to dot our I’s and cross our T’s. However, when anxiety escalates to the point where it prevents people from doing their best or doing it at all, it is time to rein it in. I encourage patients suffering from performance anxiety to think back to the first time they experienced that anxiety and explore how those negative thoughts and expectations were first acquired. When they realize that those prior, possibly long ago circumstances are no longer applicable to the person they have become, and that they are stuck in the past only because they continually re-indoctrinate themselves with those past events, they can often readily sever the dysfunctional emotional connections.

Also, I assign my patients homework that allows them to take small steps toward achieving their goals, and they are asked to keep a log of the emotions they experiences before and after. Performing tasks well gradually builds confidence. Maintaining written logs gives patients the opportunity to evaluate the rationality of their anxious beliefs, whether their negative expectations were met or refuted, and their progress over time.

Another element of effecting change is to explore with patients how likely is it that their worst case scenario of everybody thinking poorly of them will happen. If it does happen, how will that judgment really affect them? Will they ever be able to enjoy life again? Of course! They come to realize that no matter how poorly they do perform on a given day or task, this too shall pass — so why get so worked up? Death is the only thing from which we cannot come back.”

What type of professional help is available for those having a difficult time overcoming anxiety ?
“People with belief systems that cause debilitating anxiety may require psychotherapy to recover fully and in a timely fashion. Therapists are trained to identify the misperceptions that lead to anxiety. They teach their patients to identify and challenge these irrational thoughts and replace them with adaptive, rational thoughts. Therapists also teach patients how to gain control of their emotions so they can separate emotions from behavior. Patients become empowered and quality of life dramatically improves.”

Thank you, Laurel, for participating in this interview on performance anxiety.

Recommended Readings:
How to Overcome Stage Fright

Public Speaking with Confidence

How to Cope with Anxiety in Public