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Learn How To Break The Cycle Of Performance Anxiety At Work With These 5 Effective Tips

9 min read
Last Updated on 19 June, 2024

Have you ever zoned out amidst a meeting or a room full of people, doubting your ability to complete a task? Do you often question your skills or whether you fit the job?

Have you ever been stuck in the never-ending cycle of performance anxiety? Even though you are trying your best to achieve your goals or targets, the thought of failure makes it worse. If your answers to the above questions are mostly yes, then maybe you're struggling with performance anxiety.

It is normal to feel anxious or nervous before a performance or an important task, but what if the anxiety kicks in every now and then? It can be exhilarating and make your work life an unpleasant one.

This article will help you understand the difference between generalized anxiety and performance anxiety. It will also explore dismantling the performance anxiety cycle at work.

What Is Performance Anxiety?


Performance anxiety at work is a feeling you can develop over time that you might not be fit or do not possess the skills to do your job efficiently. It is a mindset or fears that you might develop that your colleague or boss is being critical of your performance. It is most common for you to feel under a lot of pressure before an important meeting, but it shouldn't be the case before every incident.

However, performance anxiety differs from generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety. It is not a diagnosed one but rather a symptom of GAD. It can stem from general anxiety, but both don't always have the same symptoms.

If you have anxiety in general, then no specific event or incident can trigger you. Generalized anxiety disorder is not limited to performance-related issues or events. You can experience it during different situations, without any apparent cause.

But you may experience performance anxiety, specifically before an event or before performing a task that you might fear you're not capable of performing. It could result from internal or external pressure, either real or perceived.

Again, social anxiety can be a factor behind it but it can vary from person to person. Not everyone feels shy or nervous encountering new situations that require social interactions. It is again a type of social anxiety when you feel intense fear or stress during or before performing or interacting with people in general.

Suggested Read 7 Ways You Can Help Employees Dealing With Work Anxiety

What Are The Reasons Behind The Cycle Of Performance Anxiety At Work?


Performance anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that can be challenging to break. When you are focused on the fear of failure, you begin to doubt yourself and your ability to succeed. It creates a vicious circle in which poor performance leads to more anxiety.

The reasons behind your anxiety can be many, but a few of the most common reasons why you may face or struggle with performance anxiety at work are -

1. Stress hormones

Stress at the workplace is a common struggle that many of you have faced and is quite inevitable. And cortisol, a stress hormone, is primarily responsible for low performance and anxiety at work.

The body's natural response to a challenging situation is to release more stress hormones. It can negatively affect your mood, productivity, and physical and mental health.

2. Negative emotions

When you're occupied with negative thoughts and emotions like fear, self-doubt, and waiting for the worst-case scenarios, your brain can find it hard to focus on the good things at work. It will immediately go on auto-pilot mode, making it difficult to engage in anything positive.

When your brain is in survival mode, negative thoughts consume most of your attention. Again, when you are anxious or stressed, you cannot think about anything clearly nor focus on work which further hinders focuses your productivity at work.

3. Dysfunction in the Amygdala

Dysfunction in the amygdala is one of the many reasons why you may struggle with performance anxiety at work. It is the part of your brain responsible for fear and anxiety.

When your amygdala is functioning properly, it helps you identify threats and prepare for them. However, when it is not functioning, it can cause you or expose you to excessive fear and anxiety even though no actual threat exists.

What Are The Symptoms Of Performance Anxiety?


Identifying the symptoms of performance anxiety at work is the first step to overcoming it. It helps you to understand whether you have work performance anxiety, anxiety before going to work or generalized anxiety. Further, when you recognize your symptoms, you can treat these challenges with the right strategies. Here are a few symptoms of performance anxiety -

  • Reduced productivity

  • Feelings of inadequacy

  • Negative attitude or negative emotions

  • Physical discomfort

  • Mental exhaustion

  • Fidgeting or excessive sweating

5 Effective Ways To Break The Cycle Of Performance Anxiety


Anxiety about performance at work is a common struggle for many people. The cycle, however, cannot continue indefinitely. If you think you suffer from performance anxiety, you're not alone. A recent study found that almost 60% of the music industry and sports adults experience performance anxiety.

The cycle of performance anxiety can be challenging for you to break, but it is not impossible. There are effective ways and strategies that you can use or practice at work, to mitigate the effects of performance anxiety at work.

Here are five effective ways you can practice to overcome performance anxiety at work -

1. Practice Mindfulness And Other Relaxation Techniques

When work seems like a lot, or you are overwhelmed with work, then maybe it's time to hit the pause button and reset. A go-to calming strategy can come in handy when you get easily distracted or anxious at work.

Practicing simple relaxation techniques or mindfulness can be your coping strategy. It doesn't necessarily have to be a complicated one. It can be as simple as a deep breathing exercise to simply closing your eyes and listening to calming music. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach but rather a tailored one.

Here are a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can try to incorporate into your daily life to reduce your anxiety at work -

  • Yoga or meditation at work will help you keep calm and prevent your mind from distractions.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation exercises help to ground yourself so that your energy and attention are on your body instead of anxiety-inducing thoughts.

  • Exercises focusing on deep breathing can help your mind focus on inhaling and exhaling rather than worrying about negative thoughts.

Take some time out of your day to practice the technique you find works best for you. By practicing regularly, you can reduce if not break the cycle of performance anxiety.

According to Dr. Daniel Sher, Guided imagery, a therapeutic technique that uses a script can help you create positive mental images and thoughts to boost relaxation.

2. Practice Positive Self-Talk

Most of the time, your anxiety results from internal pressure, which is perceived, not reality. Engaging or spending most of your time doubting yourself or in negative thoughts can directly negatively affect your mental health. It is one of the main factors that fumes your anxiety.

According to Dr. Paul Greene, a clinical psychologist in New York, focusing all your energy on negative thoughts can worsen your anxiety. Further, your performance will automatically be exacerbated by negative self-talk. When your negative thoughts start to take over your reality, you'll be more likely to be anxious and nervous before starting up any new task.

Positive self-talk or practicing more positive thinking can be helpful when it comes to managing your performance anxiety at work. The power of positive self-talk is a lot more than most of you might think.

In times of stress, remembering why you're likely to succeed and the good things about you can help you calm down and look in the mirror with a positive outlook.

If inner dialogues are not working, you always write them down. You can later read them when your mind is working against you.

3. Try To Set Some Realistic Goals For Yourself

When breaking the cycle of performance anxiety, one of the most important steps would be to set realistic goals for yourself. Setting higher goals is a natural way to boost your confidence but achieving them is a different story.

You might often find yourself panicking or getting nervous before a task or an important event because you cannot meet your own goals. If you're trying to achieve something out of your reach, you will only end up setting yourself in failure.

Therefore, setting realistic goals for yourself to achieve them and boost your confidence is essential. Instead of taking up big projects, you should focus on smaller goals and gradually move your way up.

Be it fitness goals or general behavioral goals that you want to achieve at work. It will help you reduce the amount of stress and anxiety about your future and help you be more focused on your future.

Here are a few ways how you can set yourself to put up a more realistic vision board -

  • Create a step-by-step plan on how to achieve your goals.

  • Put up a strategy to start with the smaller ones and move up to the bigger ones.

  • Have room for making potential mistakes. Remember making mistakes is a part of the journey.

  • Track your progress and make notes of what needs more of your attention.

  • Try to set up a plan to overcome your mistakes.

4. Facing Fear Is Better Than Running Away From It


Finding yourself in a situation requiring you to get out of your comfort zone can make you want to avoid it or trigger your avoidant issues. While it is natural to avoid stressful situations, it is not healthy for you in the long run.

"Avoiding situations that trigger your anxiety is understandable, however doing it repeatedly will only worsen it. - Dr. Greene"

One way to break the performance anxiety cycle is to stop avoiding and start facing your fears and problems. It would be best if you tried to put yourself more in situations that scare you a little often. The more you're exposed to facing what triggers your anxiety, the more you'll adapt to it eventually.

Rather than starting big, try starting small. You can practice your speech in front of your friends or colleagues if you have stage fright or difficulty confronting social events. You'll become more adept at controlling your emotions and anxieties with practice.

5. Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Your lifestyle has a significant impact on both your mental and physical health. Having a healthy lifestyle, whether you exercise or eat healthfully, eventually affects your health. According to many studies, your gut plays a major role in managing your mood. Your mental health is influenced by what you eat, directly or indirectly.

Therefore, incorporating a healthier diet can help eliminate stress and anxiety. It is normal to find comfort in junk food at times of distress or indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, drinking, or even consuming heavy caffeine.

The effects of smoking or drinking on your body eventually take a toll on your health, worsening your anxiety. Too much sugar intake or caffeine when in distress can affect your blood sugar levels which can further mimic anxiety symptoms and turn into actual anxiety.

When you eat healthy foods or exercise daily, your body releases serotonin, a happy hormone. Additionally, it can reduce negative thoughts and distract you from anxiety-inducing thoughts. Maintaining a healthy diet can again help stabilize your blood sugar levels, reducing your tendency to become cranky at work. It will help you focus more on your goals and be more productive.

Seek medical advice if you find your anxiety spiking up. As it can be an underlying symptom of untreated depression or anxiety disorder.

Summing It Up

Thus, breaking the cycle of performance anxiety can be challenging, but it is not impossible. Focusing more on your goals and sticking to a coping strategy that fits you can help you overcome these symptoms, if not prevent them altogether.

Anxiety is the body's natural response to stressful situations, and everyone struggles with it. However, you should seek medical attention if these recurring episodes are out of control.

I hope this article helped you better understand the cycle of performance anxiety and how to overcome it.

This article is written by Neha Yasmin who is a content marketer at Vantage Circle. A selenophile with a penchant for discovering great meals and drinks. Is a self-proclaimed binge racer with a knack for cooking in her spare time. For queries, reach out to editor@vantagecircle.com

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