Stage Fright and the Fear of Failure

30 October, 2020
In this article, we'll discuss stage fright, the fear of failure, and what you can do to overcome these common problems.

Most people have felt stage fright and the fear of failure at some point or another. These are normal sensations that come up in situations when you’re exposed to other people’s judgment. Stage fright and the fear of failure usually go hand-in-hand. That’s because the feeling that other people are evaluating you in some way is a trigger for anxiety.

While these fears are normal, their intensity determines whether or not they’re a limiting factor for living a full and satisfying life. If your stage fright is crippling, you might end up passing up on valuable opportunities and experiences. With that in mind, in today’s article, we’ll discuss the common symptoms of stage fright and the fear of failure and share some helpful recommendations on how to deal with them.

An embarassed woman in front of her coworkers.

What’s stage fright?

Stage fright becomes a problem when it starts to affect the way you live your life and limits your personal and professional possibilities. If you don’t address it, it can do significant damage.

Have you ever quit something or postponed an event due to stage fright? The attempt to avoid these feelings or control them is often the real root cause of the problem. That’s because you end up connecting these unpleasant feelings with the symptoms that are causing the discomfort. Among the symptoms, we have the following:

  • Shaky limbs.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • A lump in your throat.
  • Pressure in your chest and stomach.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Dizziness.
  • Feeling like you’re in a dream.
  • Fear of losing control of the situation.
  • Being afraid of failure and being judged by others.

Stage fright and the fear of failure

It’s normal and healthy for other people’s opinions to affect you to some degree. With stage fright, however, the judgment of others becomes so important that it can affect your performance or even paralyze you completely. It’s interesting to note that your own high standards are often the root cause of this kind of fear.

Sometimes, the anticipation of failure sets in motion a series of actions that you take to get rid of or avoid feelings that start out as normal. The more you try to make them go away, the more important they become. In fact, the feelings you’re trying to avoid start to demand more of your attention than what you were originally nervous about.

Addressing stage fright and the fear of failure

It’s important to note that stage fright is something that everyone experiences. Even people who regularly speak in front of others have some degree of stage fright.

It’s easy to look to relatively successful people and imagine that they don’t experience the same fears and insecurities as you do. However, often the only difference between success and failure is looking beyond your symptoms instead of getting bogged down by them.

When you experience stage fright and the fear of failure, it’s probably because you’re doing something that’s important to you. To what degree are you going to allow your symptoms to dominate? What can you do to distance yourself from your symptoms?

A nervous guy before a meeting.

Recommendations for facing your fears

  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Record yourself doing the thing you’re going to do in public (dance, play an instrument, give a speech, and defend a thesis, etc.) Seeing/hearing yourself is a kind of exposure therapy to the thing you’re afraid of. When you record yourself, you can even make deliberate mistakes to see how quickly and well you can recover from them.
  • Challenge yourself. Do other things trigger similar reactions on a day-to-day basis? What’s your normal response? Are these symptoms telling you that there’s something you can’t do? What small step can you take to make things different?
  • Observe your symptoms as if you were a scientist about to make a discovery. Mindfulness techniques can help you have a relationship with your symptoms and get to know yourself better. Being present can also help you distance yourself from your fears and make it harder for your symptoms to take control of the situation.

Stage fright and the fear of failure trigger some pretty unpleasant sensations. These can be paralyzing for some people. They often start to seem like insurmountable obstacles. Nevertheless, certain coping strategies only serve to feed your fear, especially if you try to repress your thoughts or avoid exposure to what you’re afraid of. Try some of the things we’ve shared with you today and see what happens!

Dalua Cirujeda, G. (2002). Cómo superar la ansiedad escénica en músicos. Xátiva (Valencia): Editorial Mundimúsica Ediciones.

Toral Madariaga, G., Murélaga Ibarra, J., & López Vidales, N. (2008). Comunicación emocional y miedo escénico en radio y televisión. Signo Y Pensamiento27(52), 134 – 144. Recuperado a partir de https://revistas.javeriana.edu.co/index.php/signoypensamiento/article/view/4583