Lockdown has left many of us feeling more anxious about the way in which we present ourselves publicly. As I have recently been working with several clients experiencing this sort of performance anxiety, I wanted to talk a little more about the causes and symptoms of this condition and how hypnotherapy can help.
When we think of the term “performance anxiety” we tend to think about actors and musicians, singers, or dancers. This type of anxiety is often termed “stage fright”. A performer may have practiced a speech, a routine, a piece, a thousand times, and yet as the curtains open they are overcome with dread and struggle to find the right words, moves or notes.
One of the most common forms of performance anxiety is glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. It is estimated that over 75% of the population experience some sort of anxiety when asked to speak before a group of peers. This can stop us fully enjoying important moments at work and socially; whether you are addressing your colleagues or being a suave “best man.”
However, you don’t need to be an artiste or on the brink of delivering a riveting speech to be affected by performance anxiety. It can, and does, affect us all.
Whether you are competing at a sport, have a job interview or a test to take, are giving a presentation at work, going on a date, or even just taking an important phone call, you may find yourself becoming overwhelmed by feelings of anxiousness and even fear. Our brains soon struggle under the pressure of not believing that we can be at our best and the right time.
A survey in the USA revealed that 20 percent of people felt they had suffered performance anxiety.
The symptoms of performance anxiety can be both physical and emotional. We often experience a racing heartbeat and a knot in the stomach as well as sweating and erratic breathing. Some people even experience trembling and changes to their vision. These physical effects are accompanied by intense feelings of fear and dread, and the sense that we are under extreme threat.
Under these physical and mental conditions, it is almost impossible to perform at one’s best.
Sexual performance anxiety
One of the most common forms of performance anxiety is sexual performance anxiety (SPA). People of all ages, and particularly men, can suffer from a feeling of nervousness about their ability to satisfy their partner, or even have sex at all. It can be connected to low self-worth, anxiety about body image, stress, relationship problems and past experiences. A 2005 study showed that performance anxiety was inextricably linked to erectile disfunction and an inability to reach orgasm in both men and women.
How can hypnotherapy help?
I have worked with numerous clients whose performance anxiety was holding them back from achieving their goals. Together we have discovered how effective a tool hypnosis is in combatting this debilitating condition.
When I ask my clients what strategies they have might tried in order to counter their performance anxiety, most describe rituals that border on hypnotherapy already. These include relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing, and mindfulness methods which bring us into focussed awareness. Mental rehearsal and envisioning are also important tools that many people use to try to fight back performance anxiety. All of these approaches are aligned with hypnosis and I work to build on these methods with my clients. With hypnosis, they can achieve the relaxed and focussed state they need to drown out the clanging physical and emotional responses of performance anxiety.
During hypnosis, my clients find a deeply relaxed state, in which we can work on visualising their best performance and aligning this state of successful performance with that of relaxing the body deeply. In this way, and together, we can train the brain to relax under the stress of performance.
Hypnosis can also help clients work through any past trauma which may be triggering performance anxiety. Trauma is remembered and created in a part of the brain called the Amygdala. This is where our fight or flight response is triggered. The Amygdala engages our stress responses when triggered, leading to all the symptoms of performance anxiety. By using hypnotherapy to work through trauma with clients I have seen how all sorts of performance anxiety can often be greatly reduced.