PERFORMANCE ANXIETY EXPLAINED
All kinds of situations can trigger a bout of performance anxiety, but for most people the
same trigger tends to pop up over and over. Whether it’s stage fright, job interviews, first
dates, or sexual activity, focusing on expectations—those of others and ones you place
on yourself—can set in motion a mental process that all but ensures the derailment of
your best intentions and capabilities. Suddenly you go from easy witty banter to
awkward silence, creative flow to a deer in headlights, and healthy sexual arousal to
diminished genital blood flow and pleasurable sensation.
Let’s say you’re on a date and make a faux pas, such as a joke that falls flat. First, the
amygdala—your brain’s “alarm system” that’s constantly scanning the environment for
negative signs like tension in others’ faces, voices, movements, words, etc.—processes
the sensory data, such as a frown on your date’s face or a sudden awkward silence.
This signals your stress response as alarm bells go off and your brain tells you,
DANGER! I’m at risk of making a fool of myself!
Then the anterior cingulate cortex—your internal “editor/fixer” kicks in, asking Did I
come across unsophisticated? Stupid? Boring? Should I change the topic? Should I
do/say something distracting? It engages this way in an attempt to correct your
mistakes. Once stimulated, it continues to predict and plan for more social errors as a
form of self-protection.
Unfortunately, a loop is then formed between your alarm system and editing system,
each triggering then re-triggering the other, around and around they go, until they tie up
all mental resources and prevent access to your natural flow and authentic
self—especially your authentic erotic energy. This is a classic example of performance
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
The knee-jerk response to performance anxiety is usually one of these three: fight,
flight, or freeze. Therefore, the key to battling performance anxiety is to establish a
sense of safety and security. The best way to do that is through the practice of
Mindfulness means being focused on the details of your moment-to-moment
experience. By consciously directing your attention, you activate the corresponding
neurons in your brain. This in turn leads to the creation of new neural pathways that
allow for new ways of handling and redirecting the situation.
For example, when feeling anxious on a date—say, during an awkward moment of
silence—instead of immediately trying to fill it, which may make your anxiety more
apparent, try paying attention to your present moment sensory experience. Focus on
your breath or areas of muscle tension in the body, which you can then consciously try
to relax. Or focus wholly on your partner by gazing into her eyes. Take in the scent of
her perfume, admire the sheen of her hair, or the lovely way her lips move when she
speaks or takes a drink.
Studies show 1 that conscious mindfulness alters activity in your brain at a neural level,
leading to a new experience in which you no longer feel anxiety under the same
conditions. It takes practice but in time can be very effective.