There are various anxiety disorders, but one that is often overlooked in children and teenagers is performance anxiety.
We find that performance anxiety happens when the pressure to do something becomes too intense. It can happen to anyone – for example musicians, public speakers and even athletes; and it can also become an issue when it comes to schoolwork and tests that need to be taken (2).
I am surprised at the number of teenagers suffering from performance anxiety that I have seen over the last few months, for some the anxiety is so great that they fear the future because they are worried about failing in life.
Symptoms of Performance Anxiety
Some of the most common symptoms of Performance Anxiety are:
- Racing pulse and rapid breathing;
- Dry mouth and tight throat;
- Trembling hands, knees, lips and voice;
- Sweaty and cold hands;
- Nausea and uneasy feeling in your stomach;
- Change in vision (4);
- Elevated blood pressure;
- Feeling there is a knot in your stomach (3).
Causes of Performance Anxiety in Teenagers
Stress and anxiety about performing in front of people, having good grades, or the high expectations of parents, teachers or themselves can all be the cause of performance anxiety (4).
Fortunately there is much that can be done to reduce performance anxiety to a much more manageable level:
- For tests and public performance, be prepared. Know your work for the test; for a public performance make sure you practise and practise.
- Limit caffeine and sugar intake on the day of the performance or test.
- Do not focus on what can go wrong. Instead, focus on the positive, and visualise yourself being successful.
- Avoid thoughts and conversations that can cause self-doubt.
- Practise breathing techniques and mindfulness. This will enable you to relax and move your thoughts from negative to positive.
- Act natural and be yourself.
- Exercise, healthy eating habits, good sleeping patterns and a general healthy lifestyle will be beneficial for a sufferer of performance anxiety and can help to overcome the issue (4).
It can be difficult to watch your teenager struggling with performance anxiety. As a parent, you can help by:
- Helping them prepare for the test or the event.
- Making sure the child or teenager has a healthy meal before the test or event.
- Giving them pep talks – but remember it is important to acknowledge your child or teenager’s distress and not to brush it off as unimportant.
- Encouraging your child or teenager during the times when they are preparing for a test or performance.
- Letting your child know that your support is unconditional.
- Making sure they don’t avoid the performance or test, so that they can learn resilience. If the child or teenager gets into the habit of running away from difficult or challenging situations, it might cause the performance anxiety to worsen in the future (3).
- Reminding your child to focus on a positive outcome.
- Distracting the child or teenager’s thoughts if they are overthinking, as overthinking always goes toward the negative.
- Teaching them the following breathing exercise.
Simple Abdominal Breathing Exercise for Relaxation
When your teenager is feeling anxious, teach them to get into the habit of doing the following breathing exercise:
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Be aware that your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, keep your jaw relaxed.
- Repeat this exercise for several minutes.
This breathing exercise can be performed as often as needed, whether standing up, sitting down or lying down (1).
Professional counselling can be a good solution for children and teenagers who suffer from performance anxiety or any other form of anxiety. After undertaking counselling many sufferers from anxiety, including performance anxiety, have a more positive view of life and can more easily manage their daily tasks and responsibilities. Counselling empowers them to be more assertive and self-assured, and they develop confidence in their ability to manage emotions and behaviour. Reducing performance anxiety in teenagers helps them to become in general, happier in life.
Author: Corey Human, B Th (Hons), M Counselling, Dip Youth Work, Dip Youth Justice, Dip Couns, Dip Pentecostal Theology, Dip Ministry. Member of PACFA and CCAA.
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.
- Ankrom, S. (2019). How to Breathe Properly for Relieving Your Anxiety. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/abdominal-breathing-2584115 [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].
- com. (n.d.). Helping Your Teen Cope With Performance Anxiety. [online] Available at: https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/blog/2015/04/09/helping-your-teen-cope-with-performance-anxiety [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].
- org Therapy Blog. (n.d.). Performance Anxiety. [online] Available at: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/performance-anxiety [Accessed 10 Dec. 2019].
- Overcoming Performance Anxiety in Music, Acting, Sports, and More. [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/stage-fright-performance-anxiety#1-2 [Accessed 10 Dec. 2019].