Performance anxiety is one of the most well-known forms of anxiety. Performance anxiety is the fear of failing. It often occurs within situations where one needs to perform, such as:

  • Exams
  • Presentations
  • Tests
  • Speeches

If you experience performance anxiety, you will notice that the anxiety will inhibit your abilities to perform at your best. The negative stress caused by performance anxiety will make it so that we can no longer function like we should. That is why performance anxiety can lead to clear psychological suffering.

Prevalence of performance anxiety?

Performance anxiety occurs in 1 out of 12 students in primary education. When looking at the numbers regarding secondary education, you will notice that 10-20% of the students deal with performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is as common in boys as it is in girls. Oftentimes girls work harder in school and pay more attention to their schoolwork, but they are also more likely to ask for help with schoolwork.

Performance anxiety according to the DSM?

According to the DSM-5, an American diagnosis-tool, performance anxiety is not a separate disorder but performance anxiety can instead be part social anxiety or general anxiety. This means that, according to the DSM-5, performance anxiety is part of a more general anxiety disorder.

What are the symptoms of performance anxiety?

We differentiate between 3 levels of functioning:

  • Cognitive
  • Physical
  • Behavioral

The cognitive symptoms of performance anxiety

  • Negative self-image
  • Negative self-evaluation
  • Internal locus of control (finding failing to be their own fault)
  • Difficulties accepting a compliment
  • Too low/too high requirements of themselves
  • Avoiding the situation which causes anxiety
  • Performance anxiety can entirely take over a situation

The physical symptoms of performance anxiety

  • Turning red
  • Heart palpitations
  • Transpiration
  • Stomach complaints
  • Bowel complaints
  • Headache
  • Hyperventilating
  • Blackout

The behavioral symptoms of performance anxiety

  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • Avoiding certain tasks
  • Daydreaming

When do we speak of performance anxiety?

Everyone experience some stress or anxiety when they need to perform. Here, we speak of positive anxiety or stress and negative anxiety or stress. Positive anxiety or stress will cause us to perform better. For example, it can motivate us to concentrate on studying on the day before the exam, so that we get better scores. Positive anxiety and stress thus make it so that we perform better, and will not inhibit our performance.

Performance anxiety, on the other hand, is characterized by negative anxiety and stress. This negative anxiety and stress will make it so that we cannot function optimally and as a result thereof we might get, for example, a blackout. Performance anxiety is thus always negative, as it can have a large influence on our lives. Performance anxiety can lead to suffering. The anxiety and stress, which you experience in performance anxiety, will lead to an irrational anxiety of always failing. This anxiety will inhibit you rather than motivate you. The symptoms of performance anxiety can have an influence to such a large extent that you could start hyperventilating.

The types of performance anxiety?

Generally, we differentiate between 3 different types of performance anxiety:

Cognitive performance anxiety

Cognitive performance anxiety is anxiety where you are afraid of failing at school tasks. Studying can be important, and people with cognitive performance anxiety are afraid of failing an exam, test, presentation, or similar things. This can continue even at, for example, apprenticeships. People with performance anxiety are not only worried that they have not increased their knowledge enough, but they can also experience performance anxiety regarding the way in which they apply this knowledge. Oftentimes, people with performance anxiety think that they cannot properly apply that which they have learned, and therefore they are anxious that they might fail.

Cognitive performance anxiety generally comes from the fear of getting a negative evaluation or criticism on that which they have done or learned. In this, grades play a large role, but the negative evaluation can also come from friends or family. It thus is so in cognitive performance anxiety that one is not just afraid of things like getting a 'poor' grade.

Social performance anxiety

If you experience social performance anxiety you are afraid to be rejected in a social way. You are afraid of failing social tasks. For youths it is often important to belong to a group, to be part of something. This will namely play a role in forming their identity. Someone with social performance anxiety is worried of being rejected on the social level and to not be part of anything. Not only do people with social performance anxiety worry about being rejected, but also about getting negatively evaluated.

What can help you with this are good social skills. If you do not have good social skills, social performance anxiety is more likely to develop.

Motor performance anxiety

If you experience motor performance anxiety, you are anxious about failing motor tasks. For example, you are worried about doing something wrong when moving about in the gym or during fitness. You have anxiety about doing a motor act wrongfully, or for doing the wrong motor act.

What are the causes of performance anxiety?

Low self-esteem

Performance anxiety can be caused by low self-esteem. For example, you are convinced that you will fail and if this happens you believe the failing is only your fault. The following thoughts might go through your head:

  • I am not smart enough
  • I am just not good enough
  • Maybe this is too much for me

You find the cause of failing with yourself only. People with performance anxiety will hardly ever think that they failed an exam 'because the questions were difficult'.

The failing in itself makes it so that people feel even worse, and this way performance anxiety creates even lower self-esteem, which in turn increases chances of performance anxiety.

Too much pressure

Nowadays there is a lot of pressure to perform. Students already feel the pressure of performance at a young age. People with performance anxiety experience an excess pressure to perform. For some people with performance anxiety, school or work is the most important thing in their lives, meaning failing really affects them. Nobody wants to fail and a lot of importance is given to succeeding in school and at work. To then deal with failing can be very difficult.

Performance anxiety? Do the anxiety test!

Do you want to know if you suffer from performance anxiety symptoms and if you are psychologically suffering? Then do the free anxiety test here!