Performance anxiety, often referred to as nerves, is a type of anxiety that arises in situations where an individual is required to perform (usually in front of others) or achieve a specific performance outcome (such as win a race or game). It can affect people in various contexts, including sports, public speaking, music, theatre, academic exams, and job interviews.
Performance anxiety is completely normal response to many situations in sport and can even be performance enhancing because it can increase focus and motivation and even give you more energy! Feeling anxious increases production of hormones like adrenaline which might help you go a little higher, faster or stronger than normal.
Anxiety is not like a disease that you either have or don't have; rather, it exists on a spectrum and varies greatly from person to person. Individuals can experience it to different degrees and in various situations. It would be very unusual if you never had any performance anxiety at all!
We feel anxiety in our body: including trembling, sweating, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, and muscle tension. These symptoms are often the body's natural response to stress, commonly referred to as the "fight or flight" response.
We also experience anxiety in our thoughts, this could be negative thinking or self-doubts. You might worry about making mistakes, being judged by others, or failing to meet expectations. These thoughts can be distracting and undermine self-confidence. Ultimately, our brain is trying to keep us safe by imagining and worrying about things that could go wrong. It is a perfectly normal response to stressful or pressure filled situations.
Everyone has different triggers and responses to performance-related stressors, making it highly individualized. Our upbringing and our genetics make us all unique! That’s why it’s helpful to talk to someone about your own experiences, rather than follow generic advice from google or other sources. Although it can be helpful, anxiety can also influence your ability to perform at your best. If you feel like the nerves you experience before and during competition are having a negative effect on your performance, that is where a sport psychologist or mental skills coach could help you.