how to overcome stage fear

How to Overcome Stage Fear

Stage fear, often referred to as performance anxiety, can be a crippling and distressing experience, affecting personal and professional growth. Here’s how  to overcome it.


What is stage fear


Stage fear — also known as performance anxiety, fear of public speaking, presentation anxiety, and more — is the overwhelming sense of dread and nervousness that engulfs us when we are required to perform in front of an audience. 


This fear extends beyond the ‘stage’ and can manifest in various performance-oriented scenarios, such as delivering a speech, giving a presentation, singing, playing a musical instrument, participating in a job interview, or even having sex.


Stage fear can manifest in unpleasant physical sensations. When confronted with a stressful situation, the body goes into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. This lead to increased heart rate, shallow breathing, sweating, and muscle tension. In turn, these symptoms can intensify the fear and discomfort associated with stage performance, turning into a vicious cycle.


The impact of stage fear on personal and professional growth cannot be underestimated. Public speaking, for instance, is a crucial skill in many professions, and a fear of it can hinder career progression. In our personal life, it can affect our self-confidence and hinder our ability to effectively communicate thoughts and ideas even with loved ones.


Addressing stage fear is essential for enhancing our overall quality of life, and it can open doors to countless opportunities.


What causes stage fear


Stage fear comes from a complex interplay of psychological factors, such as:


Fear of judgment or criticism: Many of us fear we will be negatively evaluated by our audience, leading to feelings of inadequacy.


Perfectionism: Striving for perfection can be a double-edged sword. While it can lead to excellence, it can also amplify fear, as we may be excessively critical of ourselves before we’ve even undertaken a performance.


Past traumatic experiences: Negative past experiences on stage , while presenting or simply while speaking up can leave lasting scars, intensifying the fear of future performances.


Self-doubt: A lack of self-confidence and self-compassion can significantly contribute to stage fear. If we don’t believe in ourselves, it’s challenging to face an audience with confidence.


How to overcome stage fear 


Overcoming stage fear is a process that requires dedication and effort. Here are some strategies we can adopt to gradually conquer this fear.


Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance. Start by practicing self-compassion and accepting that nobody is perfect. Acknowledging your strengths as well as areas for improvement can be a great start. With time and practice, this will lead to greater confidence on and off stage.


Use relaxation techniques. Deep breathing and other relaxation exercises can help calm the body’s physiological response to stress, promoting a sense of ease and control that helps counter any anxiety or fear.


Visualise positive outcomes. Visualising yourself performing confidently and successfully on stage before attempting a performance can reduce stage fear.


Use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations, paired with other efforts, can help us to rewire negative thought patterns around performance. Example positive affirmations might include:

  • “I am well-prepared, and I have valuable insights to share with the audience.”
  • “I am a confident and capable speaker”
  • “I am in control of my anxiety, and I can channel it into positive energy.”

Practice mindfulness. Cultivating mindfulness can help you stay present in the moment, reducing anticipatory anxiety. Meditation practices can enhance your ability to focus and remain calm.


Desensitise yourself. Gradually expose yourself to smaller, less intimidating performance situations to desensitise yourself to the fear. Over time, this can help you build confidence and build up to larger endeavors.


Try therapy. Seek assistance from a therapist or counsellor who specialises in performance anxiety if needed. They can provide personalised strategies and support.


How to manage stage fear in the meantime


Overcoming stage fear takes time and effort. In the meantime, you may find yourself on the brink of a  performance and still feeling uneasy. Here are some strategies to help you keep fear and anxiety at a manageable level.


Prepare, prepare. Thoroughly prepare and rehearse your performance. Knowing your material inside out can boost your confidence.


Use deep breathing techniques. Take deep belly breaths to calm your nerves before stepping into the spotlight. Inhale deeply for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and pause for four counts. Repeat as needed.


Lean on friends and mentors. Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and mentors who can provide encouragement and constructive feedback. Their presence can boost your confidence.


Constructive feedback plays a pivotal role in fostering personal and professional growth, particularly in the context of overcoming stage fear. Treating criticism as a chance for improvement, rather than a personal affront, can be a pivotal factor in your path towards becoming a more self-assured and proficient speaker, performer, or presenter.



Read more on this topic:

  • Performance Anxiety: 15 Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments (Positive Psychology)
  • What Causes Sports Anxiety? Plus, Tips to Get Your Game (Back) On (Healthline)
  • Conquering Stage Fright (ADAA)


Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 5+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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