Picture this: you’ve just snagged the part of the lead in your school play. You are on stage gearing up to do your opening monologue. The curtain draws, and you see the crowd looking at you. All of a sudden, you freeze. This phenomenon is commonly known as stage fright, but it stems from the deep-seated worry about performing, specifically in front of a large group of people. It can manifest during a presentation in front of a class, or at a karaoke night with friends. While it is similar to glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, stage fright, is its own separate beast, contrary to popular belief.
Stage fright isn’t limited to theatre or plays. It can appear at any social function where one is tasked with presenting or talking to a group of people. It is an aspect of social anxiety disorder, and can also be referred to as performance anxiety. However, it’s important to differentiate that not everyone who experiences stage fright or performance anxiety has an anxiety disorder (Black, 2019). That being said, approximately 40% of all adults in the US suffer from some form of stage fright (Diller, 2013). Musicians, performers, public speakers, and students are some of the people who are most commonly affected by stage fright. In some cases, stage fright can lead to a loss of confidence and various other self-esteem issues. Many people who suffer from stage fright do so because they don’t want to appear as anything besides perfect to their friends and family, or they are simply overwhelmed by the thought of embarrassing themselves. In some cases, it can trigger various physical responses like sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and a change in breathing patterns. There are also internal responses, like a desire to avoid the event altogether, or in some cases, panic attacks (Tuttar, 2020).
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), there are ways to overcome stage fright, which include “learning to accept yourself and not feeling that you have to prove yourself to others” (Esposito). Furthermore, since the anticipation of an event can trigger immense anxiety, it’s important to prepare extensively beforehand so that anxiety is lessened. Stage fright decreases with age, so with experience and practice, stage fright won’t be a controlling factor in one’s performance (Tuttar, 2020).
Additionally, many websites offer tips to combat stage fright, and they are helpful for any situation where someone experiences a sense of dread from an impending social obligation or function. Some of these tips include: finding distractions to avoid triggering a fight or flight response, creating a cheat sheet with talking points, practicing breathing exercises, and familiarizing yourself with the audience and the location the event will take place (Diller, 2013). All of these steps can be extremely helpful in minimizing the negative effects of stage fright.
Lastly, if one’s stage fright or performance anxiety is related to an underlying anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek help if the anxiety of speaking or performing in front of others is impeding daily life. Medication and therapy can help relax the body before a big event but should be used sparingly and in accordance with medical advice. It’s also helpful to talk to someone who has experienced these feelings before because it helps to normalize these feelings and emotions.
Black, R. (2019, September 12). Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking): Are You Glossophobic? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.psycom.net/glossophobia-fear-of-public-speaking
Diller, V. (2013, April 12). Performance Anxiety. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/face-it/201304/performance-anxiety
Esposito, J. (n.d.). Conquering Stage Fright. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/treatment/conquering-stage-fright
Tuttar, J. (n.d.). Stage Fright: Everything You Need to Know About it. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://speakandconquer.com/what-is-stage-fright/