Ever had a brilliant business idea, but fear of failure or judgment held you back? Performance anxiety often hinders entrepreneurs from trying, choosing, or changing.
This “nervous energy” stops you from trying new things or exploring innovative ideas.
You get stuck in your comfort zone, afraid to make mistakes or fall short of expectations.
This “playing it safe” means missing opportunities that could elevate your business.
Entrepreneur performance anxiety also clouds decision-making. Crucial choices like finding partners or expanding your product line become daunting. Fear of making the wrong decision leads to analysis paralysis and stalled progress.
It also makes you resist change. For instance, adapting to market shifts is crucial. But performance anxiety makes you hesitate, worrying about the impact on your business. Innovation takes a backseat, hurting your ability to stay ahead.
So, let’s explore performance anxiety and uncover effective strategies to conquer it.
Is Performance Anxiety a Mental Health Challenge?
Entrepreneur performance anxiety is closely linked to general anxiety. It shares similarities with recognized diagnoses, like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). But it doesn’t have an official diagnosis.
Mental health experts recommend more research into the challenges and pressures entrepreneurs face. And it makes sense. Entrepreneurship comes with its own stressors and demands that take a toll on our health.
So performance anxiety can be considered a mental health challenge. But it’s not a diagnosis.
Either way, the frequent anxiety, worry, and occasional inconsistency are very common!
Common Signs: Mental AND Physical
Performance anxiety shows up through common physical and mental signs. Learning them helps you notice when it’s impacting your well-being and business performance.
Physically, performance anxiety often shows up as increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and muscle tension.
Other common signs are sweaty palms and headaches.
But it can even show up as high blood pressure and/or digestive discomfort!
These sorts of symptoms are tough to manage on their own. But they also increase mental anxiety in important situations. So it’s a vicious cycle.
Mentally, performance anxiety often shows up as self-doubt, inconsistency, and difficulty concentrating.
Other common signs are negative thoughts, feelings of exhaustion, and a constant fear of failure or judgment.
Your mind gets filled with worry and self-critical thoughts. These undermine confidence and disempower you from performing at your best.
Of course, both physical and mental signs harm your decision-making, problem-solving, and creativity. Obviously, these qualities are essential for success.
One little-known “hack” to beat performance anxiety is to look for its physical signs. In doing so, you’ll come to notice when you’re under its spell, can take proactive steps.
So in the next section, we’ll explore what’s happening in your body for insight into how to do just that.
Your Body’s Telltale Signs of Performance Anxiety
Knowing how your body displays anxiety can help you see it’s not a sign of weakness or incompetence.
It’s a natural response to the perceived threat of failure or judgment.
In high-pressure situations, like presentations or important pitches, your stress response kicks in. Your endocrine system releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. And this increase in hormones sparks physical changes.
For instance, heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow, and muscles tense.
These are natural reactions!
They’re there to prep you for what your brain perceives as a potential threat.
In your brain, the amygdala, the fear hub, takes center stage. It sends signals through your body that intensify anxiety and cause those sensations. This hyper-alert “fear state” disrupts focus, making clear thinking and high performance hard. (If not impossible.)
Also, your prefrontal cortex helps you make decisions and think rationally. But it gets impaired during high stress. This makes it hard to make sound judgments and come up with creative solutions.
Knowing the physical causes of performance anxiety helps you approach it with compassion. And you can lean toward strategies to manage it in a way that makes sense.
One thing is important to note:
Just because symptoms are physical doesn’t mean they’re obvious.
You may look cool as a cucumber to others.
And YOU can experience these signs without even realizing it.
In fact, most people’s body awareness isn’t nearly as high they think.
3 Origins of Anxiety We Don’t Usually Consider
Where does performance anxiety come from? A combination of past experiences, cultural factors, and biological influences.
Research shows that past failures and harsh feedback fuel performance anxiety.
One study examined the relationship between past experiences, emotions, and sport performance. Researchers found that experiencing past failures and criticism meant higher anxiety potential.
So, experience traumatic failures and get judged harshly? Feel more anxious and doubtful.
Fortunately, studies also show that positive feedback and encouragement enhance performance. One study found that positive feedback and reinforcement reduced performance anxiety. These actually increased athlete skill performance.
So, get praise and recognition for your accomplishments? Feel more confident and capable.
Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences, both the challenges and the successes. Can you identify any patterns or triggers that might play a role in your performance anxiety?
Understanding past influences helps you address the root of the problem.
The way our culture and society define success influence how we perceive ourselves. Cultural and societal expectations affect how we feel about our achievements. These can contribute to performance anxiety. We feel pressured to meet certain standards and fit into societal norms.
Cultures that focus on external validation and perfectionism can intensify anxiety. One study explored how culture affected performance anxiety in college students. Focusing on winning, and comparing themselves to others, meant higher anxiety was likely.
It’s important to recognize any cultural influences at play in your business. Bravely question (and reject) unrealistic or unhelpful expectations.
Surrounding yourself with support that believes in you can also help boost self-confidence. A study found positive encouragement helped reduce anxiety in people with chronic illness.
Our biology also contributes to performance anxiety. Research continues to uncover all the ways our bodies respond to stress.
For example, one study looked at the role of cortisol in people with social anxiety disorder. Higher cortisol levels meant more noticeable symptoms of performance anxiety.
Cortisol release can cause physical effects like faster heartbeat, sweating, and increased alertness.
These can intensify anxiety.
Also, any physical problems, like stomach issues or eczema, can make us feel more anxious.
Our body responds to ALL stress the same. So it responds to physical ailments by releasing cortisol, too … which increases anxiety.
For example, have gastrointestinal problems or diabetes? Through increased cortisol release, this can increase your anxiety symptoms. Also symptoms of the physical ailment, like nausea or dizziness, can worsen anxiety.
Again, our bodies deal with all stress the same. This is why it’s literally crucial to find healthy ways to consistently manage stress.
What NOT to Do to Address that Nervous Energy
An incredibly common way to make anxiety worse is the “just do it” mentality.
What does this look like?
Facing anxiety triggers repeatedly, with hopes of becoming less sensitive over time.
But wait. Therapists use exposure therapy all the time. Isn’t it a great way to overcome fear and anxiety?
It can be, if in a safe, controlled environment with a licensed mental health professional. But doing it yourself could make symptoms worse.
Pushing yourself to “just do it” without knowing how to maintain control can backfire. This could reinforce to your brain/body that it’s okay to feel intensely anxious under pressure.
Then, anxiety doesn’t reduce; it increases.
But the opposite is problematic too: Choosing to do nothing is equally harmful.
Avoidance can also reinforce your fears, making anxiety harder to control over time.
So what’s the best strategy?
How to Beat Performance Anxiety with a Multi-Pronged Approach
Q: If both pushing yourself too hard and avoidance are harmful… what helps?
A: Taking a gentle, balanced approach that tackles pressure from multiple angles.
Stress or pressure can come from multiple sources. We’ve identified six basic areas of pressure that affect work Performance. We call these called SAPPERs™.
Imbalances in any of these areas can intensify performance anxiety.
But there’s good news, too:
Tackling the area(s) most out of balance can spark huge performance improvements–fast.
The six SAPPERs are Situational, Abstract, Physical, Practical, External, and Relational. They distract you from doing the Real Work and hurt your performance.
For instance, facing a major life event, like the recent passing of a loved one? Of course, performance will suffer. But seeking grief counseling or therapy could help you recover.
By processing those raw emotions, you can boost focus and energy.
Got frequent pain or tension that prevents you from doing the work? Understandably, performance will suffer.
But short bursts of movement throughout your workday can boost your stamina. Or ergonomic adjustments could ease discomfort, helping you stay focused.
Unsure how to attract the kind of clients you want? Of course, growth will be painful or inconsistent.
But hiring a performance coach with a marketing background could help you build a clear action plan–and follow it.
The higher focus and productivity will help you stay more consistent.
These are just a few examples. Tackling your biggest imbalances can clarify your thoughts and actions, increasing your confidence. Learn more about optimizing SAPPERs for significant performance gains.
The Bottom Line: Taming Anxiety Symptoms is Complex – but Doable
Performance anxiety is a common challenge that impacts our mental, physical, and business health. But by understanding its causes and symptoms, you can take proactive steps to tame it.
Also, personalized support and guidance can help you beat it faster.
Although it’s not a mental health diagnosis, counseling can help.
So can the support of an entrepreneur performance strategist.
Working with a strategist can help you do the Real Work, without sacrificing health or happiness. Learn more about high performance coaching for 30-plus entrepreneurs.