Performance anxiety/panic


#1

Hi all. Writing this to see if there is anyone out there with the same issue that can share any wisdom or experiences related to performance anxiety.

The biggest issue I struggle with is when I feel I have to perform. For example, presentations or being put on the spot to provide information to a group of people or giving a toast, etc. The ANT says that I have no way out - that I’m trapped. If I’m giving a presentation, I can’t just stop and walk out or I can’t just deflect and put the focus on someone else. This makes me feel trapped and floods me with anxiety to the point that I can no longer concentrate on what I’m doing. It triggers a disastrous cycle. I get more anxious and the more anxious I get, the less I’m able to focus. It’s a death spiral.

Over the years I’ve tried different tactics like maintaining eye contact with the audience, even snapping a rubber band on my wrist to get me out of that cycle. But I haven’t been able to overcome this. The rational techniques we’re learning are helping for sure. But I’m wondering if there are any real life examples from anyone that been able to control this? Have you found any strategies or tactics that help?


#2

Hey Bonzi!! I know how you feel. I too had those thoughts flood me to the point where I couldn’t even think. I would ruminate about the event I had to go through. This would be a reoccurring event that kept on happening over and over again. But, I remembered when I started the series, it told me to have calm and rational thoughts. I’ll explain, let’s say I had to give a presentation in class the next day, I would do the opposite of what I had normally expected to have done or thought. I would try to relax as much as possible by listening to music, reading a good book, taking deeps breathes, and refer back to the handouts. I learned in time that if I could slow down, and try to change the way I was thinking by looking for positive things to think about, I would start to prove my ANT’s wrong as time went on. An example of my ANT’s thought: “I can’t give a good presentation and everyone will remember me for this event.” Then once I became rational and thought about it, I said, " How will I give a bad presentation?" I couldn’t find an answer because it wasn’t true. I knew I was thinking irrationally and I proved it wrong and labeled it as a liar. And after all this, I found myself no longer being held down or trapped by my own bad thoughts. I started to change. And that can happen to anyone in time. Hope you have a good day, Bonzi. :smiley:


#3

Hi Bonzi,

I have performance anxiety too! Which is why I never got my car licence and I’m 30 (trying to work on that), but I got my motorbike licence after 3 lessons??? …probably because no ones sitting beside me marking down every little mistake!

The only things that have helped me is having more practice doing things that scare me. The more I do them the easier it gets. Some days I think I get so tired of caring about what others may think that I just stop thinking and do and act how I want and that’s when I feel the most confident.

My first job was in retail, which helped me get used to making small talk that I previously despised. And when I began drinking that also helped with socialising and having physical relationships even when I was sober… not recommending relying on drinking by the way haha.

I think we all find our ways to cope and open up and it’s kind of trial and error :slightly_smiling_face:


#4

@Diego_Aguilar, @Jojo thank you! Appreciate you both sharing your wisdom!


#5

Hi Bonzi,

I was reviewing the therapy, specifically Turning the Tables on ANTs, Parts I, II, and III, today, which made me think of this thread.

I know what you mean about performance anxiety. No doubt everyone here does, as well as most people on the planet. There is a natural adrenaline rush that comes with being the center of attention, presenting or performing in front of a group of people. I feel that using performance anxiety as the 1 example (when discussing social anxiety with others who might not understand it) doesn’t do justice to the totality of social anxiety. But, it’s an easy example for us and for others to relate to. Furthermore, when we separate out performance anxiety as independent of social anxiety, I worry that people diminish the value of the same principles/strategies that work to help us overcome social anxiety - the same strategies that would effectively help one perform better with less anxiety. It’s another one of these things where people go looking for specific solutions for this, when the solution is foundationally the same, but, okay - I understand the reason, and, perhaps, the need to focus on this singly, if we’re going for solutions.

From what you’ve written, it seems you have identified ANTs that crop up for you when dealing with this situation. This awareness is good. You’re not starting from confusion. You also are aware of your feelings, feelings that happen around this, which you don’t have to fight, shouldn’t fight. You comment on the feelings, the triggers, and the resulting spiral. So, you, yourself, have just outlined the cycle that takes place.

The tactics you describe are behavioral in nature - doing things (eye contact, rubber band as a distraction). That’s good. Dr. Richards discusses that we combine behavioral with the cognitive to make our progress faster, more effective. But, remember - it is the doing reinforced by the thinking (cognitive), the doing built upon the cognitive. We don’t just keep throwing ourselves into a perceived fire.

Thus, how to make that “fire” not a fire anymore, not an irrational, unjustified ANT? We reinforce the cognitive part, too. And specifically, I thought that Turning the Tables on the ANTs was very relevant here.

This is a reminder for all of us. This is a reason to repeat the therapy. We understand things better, we are exercising our abilities to do things better, but still in this process there is room for applying the rational therapy more than we might be doing. You ask for real life examples. Real life examples involve nothing more than applying these same cognitive strategies. This goes for me, too. I’ve got to apply the thinking (nothing more complicated than that) to the situation. When I don’t, I’m failing to help myself with a real life example of a tool. When I do, I’m using a real life technique.

Turning the Tables has three parts (three handouts), and at least in my opinion, the differences in concepts from one handout to the other aren’t different so much as it’s just a matter of, again, needing time for our brains to work through using the concepts. Slowing down, relaxing, going conditional, staying away from absolute/negative words and beliefs, and reinforcing this… that’s the essence of this. I suggest looking back on these three parts.

My real life examples for employing these techniques include: 1. Being a teacher. I still had a lot of nerves each time I taught and in different situations. No longer were my nerves keeping me from teaching or making me completely irrational, but they were nerves that I feel were not completely necessary or rational. Without thinking about it, I began to check these ANTs, breaking the cycle, reminding myself that I had taught many classes, that my nerves did not have to be negative, that maybe I could do fine without all the build-up of tension. I accepted my nerves too through self-acceptance. 2. Being more of a leader in therapy groups. This, at first, seemed to put me into a place of more self-scrutiny, more self-judgment, because I was pressuring myself to be somehow “better” for the purposes, I suppose, of wanting to help people.

To make a longer story shorter, with these examples and others, I more recently in my life began to apply rational thinking to all the build up of nerves and self-pressure. Essentially I was doing what I see today is in the Turning Tables on ANTs handouts. When I did therapy in a more focused way, I probably was keeping my mind open to these ideas and using them formally. Later on, I was probably falling back on being less proactive about it, not thinking and letting nerves sometimes rise up. But somehow, and maybe just through initial repetition and reinforcement, I did apply this to real life situations more recently in the past few years. And that was real stuff - doing the cognitive therapy is real stuff. I can clearly remember myself in my apartment saying things out loud before presentations, keeping myself more rational, letting go of the irrational build up, if you will.

Doing those things has helped. So I might not have been at my worst, for sure. But still I was perfoming with a level of unchecked nerves. And when I “checked” these nerves consciously, it helped me go through the process and the presentation better. Once you start going through the process in a more rational way, that only leads to going through it the next time more rationally as well.


#6

Thanks Mateo for your very wise advice and for sharing your real-life examples.


#7

Hi Bonzi,

I’ve been suffering from performance anxiety for over 15 years now. I’m doing the therapy now for the second time and seen some improvements but still not over it. I know Dr Richards said he wouldn’t recommend taking any beta blockers but the thing that helped me the most with these performing situations is taking propranolol before presentations and speeches. I only take them very occasionally and the first time I did I was able to give a speech at a meeting while focusing on what I was saying. The nerves were still there but nowhere near as without taking them. I could concentrate and look at other people. This helped to realised that this was not a ‘big deal situation’ at all and that I was blowing my fears way out of proportion. I was happy after that (I used to feel depressed and embarrassed after presentations and speeches) and since then my confidence has improved, my bad thoughts are not that strong, I feel more positive and I can think more rationally. Being honest, this may also be because I know I now have this pill to calm myself down so I don’t worry as I used to worry before but because I feel some nerves even thought I take propranolol I still practice calming down techniques. But also I have been speaking up at the last few meetings without taking anything, by myself, whereas before I will be quiet the whole meeting, so I think it’s had some benefits. When I took propranolol I could use the look around technique while speaking and realised that people were not really focusing on me that much, some of them were looking at the paperwork, their phone and I also realised that few people looking at me will not kill me after all. For me it has been a confidence booster but as I said I try to use them as little as possible and still face most of the situations without medication. This is only a suggestion and my experience but maybe it can help you as well. Wish you all the best.


#8

Ima, thanks so much for sharing. Very helpful information. I’ve taken Xanax in the past before presentations but not a beta blocker. I’ll explore that option. The big benefit I see is being able to calm down to a point where you can validate some of the therapy learnings.