This is my first round of research for my question: “Why do some suffer more from performance anxiety than others?”. I will state what performance anxiety exactly is, the symptoms of it, why people suffer from it, and what goes in our brain when performing.
What it is:
-Performance anxiety, often called stage fright, is the experience of extreme distress and anxiety during and before a performance in front of an audience of other people (4, 6).
-“It’s a natural, hormonal, full body reaction by an autonomic nervous system on autopilot.” (1)
Symptoms of performance anxiety:
-sweaty palms (or sweating in general) (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
-increased heart rate (1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9).
-knotted stomach/ “butterflies” (1, 3, 5, 7, 9).
-tight throat that makes talking difficult (1, 5, 9).
-dry mouth (1, 5, 6, 7, 9).
-dilated pupils, which makes reading anything up close difficult (like your notes), but faraway things (like the faces of the audience) easy to see (1, 7).
-trembling/shaking (1, 5, 7, 9).
Inside the brain (why people get stage fright):
-As humans are social animals, we are wired to fret about our reputation, and performing in front of people threatens that (1, 7).
-There’s a primitive part of our brain that controls our reactions to our reputation being threatened, and it’s very difficult to control (1, 7).
-This is called the “fight or flight” syndrome, a natural process seen in many animals that is designed to protect yourself from harm (1, 7).
-Charles Darwin tested this fight or flight response at the zoo in London in the snake exhibit by putting his face up to the glass in front of a snake ready to strike. He tried to remain as calm as possible, as obviously the snake couldn’t get to him through the glass, but every time the snake lunged, he would automatically jump backward (7).
-In his diary, Darwin wrote: “My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced” (1, 7).
-Darwin came to the conclusion that his fearful response was an “ancient reaction unaffected by the nuances of modern civilization” (1, 7).
-That is, from the point of view of our “conscious modern mind”, a speech is just a speech. However, the primitive part of our brain, when you think about the potential consequences of messing up your performance, thinks that you have to either fight to the death, or run for your life (1).
-When you focus on the possible negative consequences in a performance, your hypothalamus of your brain makes your pituitary gland secrete the hormone called ACTH. This then triggers your adrenal glands to release adrenaline into your blood (1, 7).
-This is when the symptoms mentioned previously start to occur. Your neck and back contract, making you slouch, and when you try to resist, you start to shake as your muscles instinctively prepare for an attack. Your blood pressure rises and your digestive system starts to shut down in order to maximize the efficiency of the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your vital organs, which results in dry mouth and “butterflies” in your stomach (1, 7).
That’s all for this week! In a couple of weeks from now, I will be researching what factors make our performance anxiety worse, and what makes it more tolerable. I will also look into the role genetics have, and how stage fright impacts our performance.
Any ideas or suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading!