Social Anxiety and Performance Anxiety Aren't Your Directors

Thursday, August 31 2017 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Social anxiety and performance anxiety share a theme. Knowing the similarity can help you conquer social and performance anxiety. Try this anxiety-reducing tip.

Social anxiety and performance anxiety both involve a great deal of fear, worry, and dread. When it comes to anxiety in general, that’s not unique. All types of anxiety disorders involve some type of fear, a whole lot of worry, and an overarching sense of dread. It’s the nature of the anxious thoughts and emotions that define a particular type of anxiety. With social anxiety disorder, the apprehensions largely involve fear of being judged or embarrassed in social situations. In this, social anxiety is a close cousin of another type of anxiety: performance anxiety. Understanding their relationship will help you reduce both social anxiety and performance anxiety.

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. —William Shakespeare

The Common Theme of Social Anxiety Disorder and Performance Anxiety

Few, if any, people enjoy being scrutinized and judged negatively. Those of us who live or have lived with social and/or performance anxiety often have a debilitating fear of being judged. More specifically, the fear is being judged and not measuring up.

Imagine being in a room. This room could be a meeting room at work, a lunchroom at school, a room full of friends or relatives gathered for a holiday or a room full of strangers at some community event. For someone with social anxiety, any such room is akin to a torture chamber.

Whether it’s social or performance anxiety, the brain and body go into panic mode (either figuratively or literally; people can and sometimes do experience anxiety attacks in social or performance situations). Some of the other reactions to being judged include:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Trembling hands
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Overactive bladder
  • Overall physical discomfort
  • Mental replays of perceived blunders and mistakes
  • Imagined horrible consequences of doing or saying something wrong

These reactions form a barrier between the person and everyone else. Fear of being judged, of making mistakes, or of looking stupid crowd out nearly everything else, making it nearly impossible to enjoy life.

You’re Not Social Anxiety’s or Performance Anxiety’s Player

Feeling scrutinized and being afraid of the result of such scrutiny is the common theme shared by social anxiety and performance anxiety. Use this knowledge to your advantage to reduce both types of debilitating anxiety. When you feel those anxious thoughts begin to race, ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I really on a stage?
  • Am I a puppet or a fictional character who is written by someone else?
  • Are the people around me audience members who have nothing to do but scrutinize me?
  • Are the people around me my directors, dictating my lines and actions?
  • What do the judgments actually do?
  • Can I direct my own self and choose my response to judgments?
  • Can I be my own playwright?
  • If people throw rotten tomatoes at me, can I just wash them off and adjust my act?

These questions aren’t meant to instantly eradicate social anxiety or performance anxiety. They’re designed to be the start of a new way of viewing yourself, as a person rather than someone’s character, of someone with choices rather than an actor on a stage. When you step off the stage, the audience of judges fades away, and you can be the true you. Social anxiety and performance anxiety don’t have to be your script for life.

I share more information about social and performance anxieties in the below video. I invite you to tune in.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

View all posts by Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC.

Social Anxiety and Performance Anxiety Aren't Your Directors

Cheramie Lutz
says:
August, 31 2017 at 3:28 am

Thank you so much!!!

Thomas Ditges
says:
August, 31 2017 at 9:31 am

As someone who struggled with Anxiety, Panic Attacks etc.. by my own i have to admit ther is no soft Solution, instead of that you really have to go in that fear. thats tha uncomfortable truth if society manage with your fears than its just a winning of time

Candice Eisenhower
says:
June, 19 2018 at 7:28 pm

I agree that the main cause of a person's social and performance anxieties stem from the fear of being criticized and judged by the people around them. It makes sense especially if you're in an environment where you will be interacting with the same people each and every single day, let's say in the office. While I can relate to this feeling, this is not something that I should harness in me because it can impact my competence and show the real me in the outside world. I'll definitely need to know more about this condition by reading some materials about it and find ways to overcome it.

June, 20 2018 at 8:40 am

Hi Candice,

Thank you for sharing your insights. I love your statement about relating to the feeling without harnessing it. Our thoughts and feelings, while of course real to us, absolutely do not represent who we really are and what we can do. It is definitely about what we choose to harness in ourselves, and it's an active process that is done deliberately. This is valuable insight.

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