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:
- 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.