Performance Anxiety in the Workplace and Ways to Cope - a lady with her hands over her face in front of laptop

Performance Anxiety in the Workplace and Ways to Cope

Haeli Harris
November 15, 2022
November 8, 2022

This blog post was written by Haeli Harris, Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.

How often have you said yes to a task you didn’t feel comfortable taking on? Has your throat ever tightened in an important work meeting?

Thoughts about your work may swirl in your mind for hours on end, with no sight of them ceasing, or invasive thoughts of doubt and anxiety regarding your abilities in your career may fester. 

It can be easy for even an accomplished, well experienced or highly educated employee to feel performance anxiety at work. Performance anxiety does not show a lack of talent, but it is a harmful state of mind. 

As a manager or an employee, it’s crucial to acknowledge the potential triggers of performance anxiety, how to deal with performance anxiety at work, and practice ways that lead you to overcome performance anxiety at work.

What is performance anxiety?

If you have experienced these thoughts and feelings, you may be experiencing a form of performance anxiety. Performance anxiety at work can be defined as the desire to perform in the way that you perceive others may want or expect, rather than focusing on reaching and meeting attainable goals. 

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, with an estimated 264 million people globally who have anxiety. Performance anxiety can be common as well, with 84% of American actors who have reported experiencing it in a 2011 study. 

Symptoms of performance anxiety can affect our mental wellbeing in a few ways. The stress that is developed through performance anxiety can cause a negative effect on our physical health, like poor sleep, insomnia, and stress dreams.  

For some, performance anxiety at work can make tasks very limiting, which prevents them from doing what they need to do or enjoying activities that they love. 

Some common symptoms of performance anxiety are:

  • Racing pulse and rapid breathing
  • Dry mouth and tight throat
  • Trembling hands, knees, lips, and voice
  • Sweaty and cold hands
  • Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
  • Vision changes
  • Lower productivity
  • Irritable mood
  • Less confidence

Why You Might Be Feeling Performance Anxiety

There are a lot of reasons you may be feeling performance anxiety while at work, such as:

  • The work environment that you are surrounded in
  • Workplace gossip or politics
  • Communicated and uncommunicated expectations
  • The desire to climb the ladder or an extremely strong sense of achievement
  • A false perception of self and others

Scientifically speaking, there is a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for our function of fear. The amygdala creates chemical reactions that result in an adrenaline rush. 

How to Ground Yourself

If you are experiencing the symptoms of a performance anxiety attack, there are several strategies that you can use to ground yourself back into reality. 

  1. Having a fidget toy or a stress ball. These can help to calm your nerves, relieve tension and distract you from your anxiety. 
  2. Try a mindfulness exercise. A useful one to keep in your pocket is to try naming five things that you see. 
  3. Practicing gratitude. Take a moment to think about the things that you’re grateful for in your personal life or in your job. 

You can make these grounding techniques a habit by committing time and space at work to practice them on a daily or weekly occurrence. Regularly practicing these grounding techniques can lead to overcoming performance anxiety at work. 

The Importance of Self-Care

As a professional counselor, I can feel performance anxiety when trying to attain a certain caseload to meet others’ expectations. Whenever I experience these feelings, I usually take time to myself. 

Taking time to yourself is a great way to cope with performance anxiety at work. If you are feeling pangs of anxiety, it is okay to take a break and step away from what you are doing, take a breath, and come back when you feel at ease. It is important to practice self-care for your mental wellbeing so you can overcome performance anxiety and live a happier life.

Practice Saying Positive Affirmations

When you or someone else is experiencing performance anxiety, a helpful strategy to have is positive self-talk. Self-talk is the act of working yourself through the moment. It could be said quietly or just thought in your mind. 

Having a list of positive affirmations in the back of your mind (or even written down and stowed away at your desk or in a computer document) can be really helpful. Speaking these truths to your life may feel difficult at first, but as you continue to affirm yourself, the easier you will be able to accept the statement as truth. 

When speaking to yourself with positive statements, you can reaffirm your sense of worth and value as an employee. 

Some positive statements to think to yourself when you are experiencing performance anxiety:

  • You got this.
  • You’re qualified enough for this task. 
  • It can wait until tomorrow.
  • You are great at _______. 
  • You can do this, no matter what happens.

Here’s another tip: write down any positive feedback that you get from coworkers, your boss, or anyone that you interact with throughout your workday. Eventually, you will have a document full of actual evidence that you’re a great employee.

How to Support Those Who Are Experiencing Performance Anxiety

If your employees or coworkers are experiencing performance anxiety, there are many resources to point them towards. 

If you have an in-house counselor or a counselor to refer your employees to, they can help. 

Also, check in regularly with your staff and make sure that they feel comfortable—that they’re not extending themselves too far and that they are taking good care of themselves. 

Validating the successes and progress of your staff can also help alleviate the feelings of anxiety, since you will be validating their abilities. 

For more advice on overcoming anxiety, check out these articles:


By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.