Performance Anxiety

By Barbara Radin Fox

You’ve all seen the syndrome: the speaker who suddenly freezes during an important presentation. An athlete who misses a crucial free throw near the end of a game. Or a sales representative who is very persuasive in most calls, but somehow gets a case of the “willies” when he must deal with a CEO.

These three examples are what is called “performance anxiety”. What it is, is the failure to achieve or to do what that person can do in more relaxed situations, such as in practice or rehearsal. When it comes to the real thing, though, their inner fears and expectations cause many physiological changes and result in a failure to perform by virtue of performance anxiety—or as it is commonly known as choking.

In the workplace, EAP Counselors may see an employee who is having trouble performing the job properly, which could mean giving reports or speeches in front of others, disciplining an employee for not showing up for work, not turning in work on time, not speaking up in a meeting, etc. After a layoff, many employees may not able to do their jobs because fear of losing their jobs in the future translates to performance anxiety in the present.

Any of these examples could happen to us. The uncertainty of the future of the mental health care profession leads many of us to fear the future. For someone anxious enough, this could mean deterioration in our work performance as well as our relationships or activities outside of work.

In the past, this performance shortfall has been treated—not very successfully—by support groups, in-house training programs, pats on the back, tough talk, seminars and repeated practice.

EMDR (for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be used to treat the problem of performance anxiety. For the last 10 years EMDR has been used to treat very extreme cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as with the survivors and medical workers at the Oklahoma bombing tragedy.

A few years ago, psychologists Sandra Foster and Jennifer Lendl, who teach at Stanford University, found that they could use EMDR for performance anxiety of all types and in fact have used it successfully in businesses. I used EMDR for 2 years on PTSD and Phobia cases, but I started using it for performance anxiety early in 1997 with exciting results. Not only is EMDR effective, but it usually works in 4 sessions or less. It has applications in the workplace, in sports, in test-taking, sex therapy, public speaking, music and drama performance. So far, 10 years of research has shown that at least with PTSD, symptoms do not reoccur. (You can find more citations of case studies at )

Barbara Radin Fox is the founder of Body and Soul Therapy® and The Fox Performance Coaching Institute. Barbara is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and has a Masters in Education. She sees clients at Body & Soul, 2045 Maybank Hwy, James Island, SC, as well as in offices in Seabrook Island, Mt Pleasant and Goose Creek.