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Performance Anxiety

Dr. Jan Mark Burte - Performance Anxiety



Performance anxiety is one of the most common problems people face. For most it is just some “butterflies” in their stomach, but for many individuals performance anxiety represents a severe debilitating condition. Performance anxiety manifests itself at every walk of life, level of success, and every age. From children to seniors, performance anxiety is present.


Interestingly, the more successful and higher functioning an individual may be, the greater the likelihood that they will experience some forms of performance anxiety. Like Icarus the higher we go, the greater the fall, or more appropriately the fear of falling.




A common cause of performance anxiety is faulty thinking. From an early age we are filled with irrational beliefs which connect our sense of self to our performance on specific tasks. This is further compounded by other irrational beliefs about being perfect or at least not faking or making a mistake.


Perfectionistic thinking, fear of losing the esteem of others by not being good enough, fear of embarrassment, fears that small errors or deficits may be indicative of greater deficiencies or problems and irrational beliefs that we need to maintain the approval of others to be viewed as worthwhile are but a few of the thoughts and beliefs which contribute to performance anxiety.


Work Performance Anxiety


Work Performance Anxiety is a leading cause of stress and stress induced illnesses in the workplace. Fear of making either a work-related error or social faux pas at work can inhibit performance or lead to avoidance of the work place.


Pressures to produce can create counterproductive debilitating anxiety. The expression “over-analysis causes paralysis” is apropos to negative reactions in the workplace. Work Performance Anxiety is manifested by everyone from clerks to CEO's. Often the perceived pressures and fears of failure are indicative of unresolved self-perceptions from earlier times in the persons life. These emotions at times become pervasive enough that they are then manifested outside the work place.


Sleeplessness, reduced health, eating habits and weight changes are not uncommon. Marital and family problems may arise. Patients often either become “grumpy” with family or withdraw from relationships because of the bottled up negative feelings they are experiencing. Socially, they may begin to question their value and withdraw from social situations, or conversely, overly rely on social situations as an escape and engage in excessive behaviors.


Sports Performance Anxiety


The most visible example of how anxiety impedes performance is in the sporting sector. We have all seen highly trained athletes become unable to perform basic skills. An example is a player who “chokes” under the pressure of a big game or in a big city. Batters choke at the plate and their averages drop. Another problem, called the “gips”, is when a baseball player begins to throw erratically and can’t make a simple throw to first base.


The question is: what is different in the thinking of the “clutch” player versus other players? What are these players telling themselves that is different and more effective at managing or eliminating sports performance anxiety?


Dr. Burte has found that the key is to first uncover and eliminate the negative self-hypnotic statements and images as well as the irrational beliefs that the player is generating. They player needs to review in their mind the mental images and proprioceptive sensations of prior successes and then re-approximate these experiences. By utilizing kinesthetic imagery players can re-associate themselves with successful performances from the past within their current setting. Finally, players need to not focus on any of these things while on the field, but rather trust their training, muscle memory and subconscious imagery.


Developing a relaxed but serious mental attitude is crucial to the player’s optimal performance. Eliminating negative-self statements and images is often the difference between “clutch” and “choke” player.




Relaxation training and imagery/hypnosis in improving sports performance is a well documented approach used at all levels of play. Research and actual experience with armature and professional athletes demonstrates the effectiveness of relaxation training and imagery/hypnosis in improving s ports performance. Via visual imagery, breathing and focusing techniques, Dr. Burte has found that athletic performance can be greatly enhanced. Sometimes, as few as 4 to 5 sessions have yielded positive results in the individuals whom he has trained to employ these techniques in their chosen sports.


One need watch any sporting event to observe professional athletes employ these techniques to relax their grip, shoulders and breathing, and to increase their focus and eliminate their distractions. Something as simple as creating a positive image and smiling can change physiology and reduce anxiety to the optimum performance enhancing level of alertness.