9 of the Best Ways to Break the Cycle of Performance Anxiety

9 of the Best Ways to Break the Cycle of Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety can worm its way in at any moment, making you hyper-aware of how others are perceiving you. It can make you feel like an impostor, or like the moment you make a mistake, (and, of course you’ll make a mistake,) everyone will notice. It can be devastating to otherwise successful, high-performing people. Thankfully, you can break the cycle of performance anxiety.

1. Why are you anxious?

This is an easier question to ask than it is to answer, but identifying the source of your anxiety is the first way to break the cycle. Here are some things you can do to try and identify where the source of your anxiety lies:

  • Explore your past: Are there any instances in the past where you seriously messed up a performance, speech, or meeting? That could have had a lasting impact on your psyche. We’ll touch on what to do about it later, but for now, identify it and see if that’s what comes up when you feel anxious
  • Think about how you talk to yourself: When you run a meeting, do you dwell on how you’ll trip, misspeak, or otherwise make a fool of yourself? What words do you use? If, every time Greg runs a stand-up meeting, he thinks, “This is it. This will be the time I mess up,” then it makes sense that the anxiety starts bubbling up, because he’s already started believing it will happen.
  • Try writing: If you find journaling to be helpful, try writing about your fears. What is the worst part about delivering a speech? What do you dwell on while you practice? Why do you hate people staring at you? Let yourself write freely, stream-of-consciousness-style, and you may be surprised at what you discover about yourself.

2. Challenge Negative Thoughts

Challenging your negative thoughts is the key. Let’s think about Greg again. If instead of thinking “This is it, I’m going to mess up,” he thought, “I run this meeting every morning and haven’t messed up yet. I have a lot of practice doing this, so I will be okay,” he might find his anxiety reduced.

The Bell Curve Can Help Break the Cycle of Performance Anxiety

I always like to think of my- and everyone’s- performance on a bell curve. On average, the vast majority of your work, performances and all, will be completely unmemorable, because you will have “met expectations”. A select few times, you will completely bomb, or you’ll knock it out of the park. That means that, yes. You will mess up sometimes, and you will have a perfect performance sometimes. But neither of those situations are a very good basis for your entire lived experience because they only happen 2% of the time.

Instead, tell yourself that the most likely outcome is the one where you have a perfectly average performance. It really does take the weight off when you start believing it!

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

If you run a daily or weekly meeting, you might already be doing this. I have a background in acting, so my practice is usually pacing in my room reciting lines over and over. That being said, memorizing a speech or a part in a play is only one part of practicing. You also need to practice talking to people.

Get your partner, sibling, best friend, or even your dog to sit and watch you, and do it over and over. You might find it even more nerve-wracking to perform for your loved ones, and that’s because you care more about what they think. But the more you feel that pit in your stomach and carry on despite it, the better you will become at resisting the anxiety when it starts to creep in.

Make your audience bigger over time, even if you have to organize a Zoom call. That might even make things feel more real if you work from home and run your meetings virtually. Just get used to the feeling of discomfort, give yourself some positive self-talk, and let the show go on!

4. Keep Breaking the Cycle of Performance Anxiety

Once you start to challenge your negative thoughts and you find yourself catching them more often, it’s time to start replacing those negative thoughts with more positive ones. A therapist can definitely make this process faster, but the key is to make a list of positive affirmations you can tell yourself (and believe,) to keep reducing your performance anxiety.

Examples of Positive Thoughts

Some examples of positive thoughts to tell yourself include:

  • “I am prepared for this.”
  • “If I mess up, it’s okay. Everyone messes up sometimes.”
  • “I am safe.”
  • “I am choosing to trust myself.”
  • “It’s good to leave my comfort zone.”
  • “I’ve done this before, and I can do it again.”
  • “I am good at my job.”
  • “This feeling is only temporary.”

5. Work Out Your Performance Anxiety

Exercise has been shown to be extremely effective in fighting anxiety. It releases endorphins and other natural chemicals that enhance your well-being, takes your mind off your worries for a while, and can also help you gain confidence as you see improvement in your fitness. It even helps psychosomatically; knowing you’re doing something healthy to manage your symptoms can also help manage your symptoms!

Any physical activity works, from spending an hour at the gym to going for a short walk on your lunch break. In fact, I would recommend going for a walk when you feel the performance anxiety start to bubble up. It can help clear your mind and make you feel refreshed before the show goes on. I also find that working my muscles helps relieve some of the tension anxiety brings on.

6. Relaxation Techniques for Performance Anxiety

Relaxation techniques, like working out, can help relieve muscle tension and reduce feelings of panic. There are many different techniques to try, but here are a few I find particularly helpful:


There is a correct way to breathe when you’re anxious! People often recommend Box breathing, where you inhale, hold, exhale, and hold again for an equal amount of time. But research has actually found that when thoughts are spiraling, we tend to inhale for longer than we’re exhaling naturally. In order to combat this, breathe slowly and ensure that your “out” breaths are longer than your “in” breaths. This works especially well if you tend to hyperventilate when you have anxiety or panic attacks.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique where you systematically tighten and then relax each muscle in your body, starting from your feet and working up to your neck and head. Doing this helps work the tension out of your muscles and puts you into an overall more relaxed state. Plus, it has the added bonus of being something subtle you can do anywhere without drawing attention to yourself.


Did you know yoga can reduce anxiety? It gives you those much-needed endorphins, but yoga also brings you out of your head and into your body. The goal with yoga is to focus on how your body physically feels, which helps to ground you and make you feel calmer naturally.

7. Try Visualization

Visualization can work well to help you relax and break the cycle of performance anxiety. You can choose to do one of two things: either visualize yourself in a calming, peaceful, safe place, or visualize yourself succeeding at your meeting, speech, or performance. This works so well that even Olympic athletes visualize themselves winning in order to achieve success in what they do. 

8. Shift Your Focus to the Process

Instead of dwelling on how the outcome of your performance will be, use that mental energy to create a practice schedule. Focusing on ways to improve will help you stop spiraling as the deadline approaches. You can also record yourself speaking to see how you improve over time.

The important part is to really focus on the process. If you’re able to identify specific places where you need improvement, your confidence will increase because you know you’re improving every time you practice.

9. Get Support

Practice in front of people

There are a ton of ways getting help from others can help with your performance anxiety. Loved ones can watch you practice and give feedback. This works double-duty to help you practice messing up, too. You’ll build confidence each time you stumble over your words or forget your lines and then get right back on track.

Join a support group

You can also join an anxiety support group if your performance anxiety stems from social or generalized anxiety. A support group for people with social anxiety helps everyone get used to talking to strangers, and you will often get positive feedback on how you come across. They can also be another great place to practice your performance if you need to.

Seeking advice from a mentor is also advised, as they were likely just as nervous as you when they were in your shoes. Getting positive feedback from a mentor can bolster your confidence, and knowing they’re on your side might help relieve some anxiety during your meeting or performance.

Try therapy

Finally, if your anxiety is persistent or you struggle with any of the above tips, it might be helpful to reach out to a therapist who specializes in anxiety. Often, the coping mechanism people use when they have anxiety is simple avoidance; a therapist will help you safely work through your aversions and set you up with healthier coping mechanisms that are tailored to your specific needs.

If therapy sounds like the right option for you, Modern Era Counseling has therapists trained and specializing in anxiety treatment with openings as soon as next week. Give us a call at (704) 800-4436 or shoot us an email to get started today.

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