The Hidden Signs of Performance Anxiety 

 August 18, 2019


Everyone experiences performance anxiety to some degree. We know it as it’s happening. You’re about to go on stage and your palms are sweaty, your heart is racing, maybe your throat is clenching up and you feel nauseous. These are examples of symptoms that are obvious and recognizable.

But are there signs of performance anxiety that you’re missing? Keep reading to find out, because if you’re misreading the cause of a problem, you are likely not properly addressing the fix.

Before we get to the signs of performance anxiety that you could be missing, let’s talk more about what we mean when we say performance.

A singing performance is an obvious example. Speech-giving is another event that commonly activates performance anxiety. But these are only two of many forms of performance. How many? I can’t even tell you, because just about everything is a kind of performance. Some examples:

  • Going on a job interview
  • Asking someone on a date
  • Expressing your opinion among a group of different-minded people
  • Raising your hand to answer a tough question in class
  • Leading a team project at work

If you struggle with performance anxiety as it relates to singing, there’s a good chance that the same anxiety creeps into other aspects of your life. This is why I broach this topic with my students over and over again. It’s an important life skill, not just a singer’s problem.

Different people land at different spots along the anxiety spectrum but if you struggle to any extent, the information here will be helpful to you.

The effects of performance anxiety can be broken into two categories:

  • Real-time effects. The physical, emotional, and mental reactions experienced at the moment, or just before the moment a performance begins.
  • Preemptive effects. The physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions to an impending (or even considered) performance.

Since most folks recognize the real-time effects of anxiety, I’m going to focus here on preemptive responses.

A definition of Preemptive: “Serving or intended to preempt or forestall something, especially to prevent attack by disabling the enemy.”

This is what part of your subconscious is attempting to do. It views your planned performance as a kind of attack on your wellbeing and wants to “disable the enemy” (you) to prevent the perceived threat (the performance).

Your subconscious knows your weaknesses.

If you’re someone who frequently gets migraines, you may find yourself coming down with one a day or two before a performance. If you’re prone to depression or extreme overwhelm, then you’ll probably experience those things instead. My Achilles’ heal is congestion. Before I understood the workings of performance anxiety, I frequently came down with cold symptoms before a performance.

Moodiness is another preemptive symptom of performance anxiety. Impatience and arguing can increase. People may become frustrated, negative, and downright mean to others and/or to themselves.

Below are two chat videos I made discussing these things:


There’s one more video I’d like to share. This one is a presentation about performance anxiety that covers the phenomenon from start to finish.

I’ve shared this before, but if you haven’t seen it yet and you struggle with performance anxiety, please watch it. In it, I describe the greatest tool you possess for lowering performance stress and improving assertiveness. It’s the knowledge that will empower you to continue following your passion successfully.

(Please disregard the reference in the video to my Patreon page. My membership service is now run directly from my website, if you’re interested.)


One more important thing to remember if you want to move beyond your performance anxiety. You have to perform. It’s the only way to practice performing.

You have to perform.

You need to practice the advice I give in the presentation above regarding how to hold your body. You have to practice not completely losing your mind as you perform. And you have to rack up “wins” so that the part of your subconscious that is trying to protect you learns that protection isn’t necessary.

Last month, I challenged my readers to schedule a performance. For some of you, this may have been no big deal. Maybe you already run the karaoke circuit in your town. For those of you who felt you were not up for the challenge, I encourage you to consider it again.

But you can start in small, manageable steps. Start at home.

Over recent years, several of my adult students began coming to lessons with their tablets in hand, ready to plug into my sound system and use the very karaoke tracks they’d been practicing with. This is how I learned about the Karafun App.

With this app, you can lower or eliminate the lead singers voice. You can lower or eliminate the background singers’ voices. And you can change keys to better fit your range. It’s a great tool to use at home as a stepping stone to getting yourself on a more public stage. Check it out for yourself.

If you think I’ve left something out regarding performance anxiety, please let me know in the comments. Or if you have your own performance anxiety story to share, I’d love to hear it.

Good luck and happy singing!

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