Performance anxiety = debilitating fear or worry when it’s time to step up to the plate. The “plate” can be anything from giving a speech to finally making sweet, sweet love to your forever crush.
Stage fright and sexual performance anxiety (SPA) are the most well known forms of performance anxiety. But it can rear its ugly head beyond the stage and bedroom. Interviews, sports events, and exams are some of the possible triggers.
Ready to understand more about this sweat-inducing phenomenon? Here’s the 411 on performance anxiety, including how to overcome it.
Performance anxiety is a sudden, intense panic that occurs when you feel like you have to perform.
Any situation shrouded by pressure to achieve can lead to performance anxiety. Maybe it’s the crowd chanting your name in the hopes of a game-winning touchdown. Or maybe it’s your partner screaming your name in anticipation of reaching orgasm. Regardless of the specifics, the pressure is on.
Here’s the rundown on common types of performance anxiety.
Feeling panicked about standing up to speak, sing, or dance in front of a crowd? That’s stage fright.
Of course, there are times we get called up to speak in public with no script or stage in sight. This performance anxiety can crop up before a class presentation, a board meeting, or even a wedding toast.
Heads up: Glossophobia, a form of social phobia related to public speaking, can also be a factor in social anxiety disorder.
Sexual performance anxiety
SPA occurs when the prospect of getting your freak on freaks you out — in a nervous, sweaty sort of way.
Though it’s not recognized as a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, researchers say SPA affects 9 to 25 percent of men and 6 to 16 percent of women.
In pecker-packing peeps, it’s linked to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. And for folks with a vulva, it can lead to a major decrease in libido.
People report experiencing SPA for various reasons, including:
- ejaculating too fast
- fear of erectile dysfunction
- inability to satisfy a partner
- insecurities about how they’ll look naked
SPA hits everyone a bit differently. Some folks are chill until the second the panties drop. Others are rocked by clammy palms and shortness of breath whenever they imagine a hot date.
Athletic performance anxiety
Sports anxiety — aka athletic performance anxiety (APA) — will sound familiar to anyone who followed Simone Biles’ famous withdrawal from gymnastics events at the 2020 Olympics. Talk about a high pressure athletic event.
The major downer with APA (aside from it generally being a sucky experience) is that your mental state can have a direct, noticeable impact on your athletic performance.
It’s natural to worry before an important exam. But full-blown test-taking anxiety feels more like a panic attack than just a few stomach butterflies.
Severe test-taking anxiety can cause major life setbacks. Like, what if your anxiety prevents you from taking a driver’s test or citizenship exam?
But don’t worry too much — research suggests that studying reduces test-taking anxiety. Hit them books, y’all!
We’ve all experienced jitters before a job interview. In the same vein as test-taking anxiety, problematic interview anxiety occurs when symptoms are overwhelming or debilitating.
By the way, we’re not just talking about job interviews. Some folks experience interview anxiety before a date or a meet-the-parents lunch.
The key difference between performance anxiety and other anxieties is context. With performance anxiety, there’s real or imagined pressure to perform.
Some physical signs of performance anxiety:
- dry mouth
- chest pains
- shallow breathing
- high blood pressure
- accelerated heart rate
- nausea or stomach cramps
- tunnel vision or blurred vision
- bladder control probs (either peeing too much or involuntarily)
- clamminess or excessive sweating, especially on the palms or brow
And some mental and emotional signs:
- task avoidance
- trouble focusing
In the case of sexual performance anxiety, you might also experience erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, vaginal dryness, or decreased sex drive.
The good news is that performance anxiety doesn’t have to be permanent. Here are some ways to overcome it.
Know your triggers
Simply pinpointing what causes your performance anxiety is the first step to beating it.
Maybe your SPA rears its head once you hit the bedroom. Maybe you’re terrified of flubbing your lines during Act 1. Maybe you know that interview panic sets in during the mad dash from your Uber ride to the potential new office.
Isolating your triggers provides the insight you need to make deliberate changes.
Make a plan
Now that you know your triggers, you can make a plan.
If you get nervous during sexy times because you don’t know what your partner wants, ask for verbal cues. If you know an interview during rush hour traffic invites major jitters, plan to arrive an hour early.
Thoughtful planning *before* the performance anxiety hits helps you give yourself a nice, wide anxiety-swallowing buffer.
If your performance anxiety is interfering with your life, consider seeking help.
There’s not enough research to recommend a specific type of therapy for most performance anxiety. But talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and mindfulness meditation training might help.
SPA has been studied more deeply than stage fright or test-taking anxiety. Sex is a big deal, after all — most folks want to participate in it without having a panic attack. Limited research suggests that CBT might be effective for SPA.
Yes. According to a 2020 research review, SPA is often a causal factor in psychogenic erectile dysfunction (ED). Translation: Performance anxiety can induce a case of the floppies.
While this isn’t earth-shattering news, it’s nice to know science backs up the anxiety/erection link. It helps to realize that fear of flaccidity can lead to … well, flaccidity. It’s a vicious cycle.
But drugs like Viagra (aka Sildenafil) still totally work for psychogenic ED. And even a drug-induced boner can build confidence. It’s almost like training wheels for your ding-dong. And that’s a win in our book.
Performance anxiety is anxiety that develops as a result of real or perceived pressure to perform. While stage fright and SPA are super common, performance anxiety has yet to be recognized as a diagnosable condition.
Symptoms of performance anxiety are similar to those of other types of anxiety. But SPA carries a heightened risk of ED, vaginal dryness, or low libido.
Performance anxiety is treatable. Some people successfully squash it with mindfulness and thoughtful planning. But if your anxiety is interfering with your life, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor or therapist.