Social Anxiety and Stage Fright

Social Anxiety and Stage Fright

Claude Jordan

Guest Post by Claude Jordan

“I’m terrified.”

That’s what went through my head for most of my teenage years and early twenties.

You see, I used to suffer from social anxiety. I’d always think people were looking at me, judging me, laughing at me.

Of course, that wasn’t the case, but that’s what I used to tell myself - and because I believed it, it became true.

After a decade of this, I decided enough was enough.

And, after a lot of reading and hard work, I am finally capable of functioning like a normal human being.

Along the way, I realized that a lot of the lessons I learned from beating social anxiety apply to overcoming stage fright too.

And today, I want to share five of these lessons with you. Let's jump right in.

1. The Illusion of Transparency

Beating social anxiety was a gradual process.

There were days when I was feeling nervous inside but was already confident enough in my social skills that I could push through.

And, one time I noticed that the person I was talking to had no idea I was panic-stricken.

Later, I found out there was actually a name for that: Illusion of Transparency.

Wikipedia defines it as the “tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which their personal mental state is known by others.”

I simply say people are terrible at telling how you feel inside.

And, unless your hand is shaking like a willow in a hurricane, don’t worry about people seeing that you’re nervous when you are on stage.

They usually don’t.

And, what’s more surprising: They don’t even care about you enough to want to know your mental state.

Sounds horrible, but let me explain.

2. The Spotlight Effect

I used to have the tendency to believe random people were laughing at me when I was sauntering down the street - because of my funny walk, my haircut, or my socks.

Looking back, that was idiotic, but it was an extreme form of the Spotlight Effect.

Consulting our trusty friend Wikipedia again, the Spotlight Effect “is the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are.”

In other words: Nobody cares about you.

We tend to forget that, although we are the center of our own world, other people believe the same thing.

Those guys who I thought were laughing at my hair? They were worried that the people in their group didn’t like their hair.

So, next time you go on stage, remember that although you might be trying to impress the audience, they don’t care. They care way more about impressing their date.

And, even if they actually laugh at you, remember that you can’t please everybody anyway.

Cue lesson three.

3. “Haters Gonna Hate”

Although this catchphrase sounds cliched and trite by now, it is still true.

And it was one of the toughest nuts to crack when I had social anxiety.

There will always be people who don’t like what you do, and there’s no point in convincing them otherwise.

Even when I had decent social skills and wasn’t nervous anymore, there were people I’d talk to who didn’t like me for some reason.

At first, that bothered me. Had I said something wrong? Why didn’t they like me?

Later, I began to understand that I shouldn’t get too hung up on that. Instead of trying to change people’s minds, I could spend my time far better, trying to find people whom I’d hit it off with right away.

And that’s true for performing on stage as well. Not everybody is going to like what you do, that’s a fact of life.

So, as long as you give a solid performance, don’t focus on the haters.

Speaking of performance, let’s talk about the next lesson I learned.

4. More Practice Doesn't Guarantee Reduced Stage Fright

How often have you been in a high-pressure situation and fumbled doing something you could usually do in your sleep?

Maybe it was during a crucial exam. You could rattle off the answers when studying with your friend, but when the serious time rolled around, your mind went blank.

The same is true for social anxiety. After a while, it became easy for me to talk to people I knew, but with strangers, I’d struggle.

It was not because I didn’t have the social skills - after all, I could talk to my friends - it was because my nerves prevented me from accessing those skills.

And that also applies to stage fright. If you can play a piece when you’re alone, you have the technical skills to pull it off in front of an audience.

You just can’t access those skills.

In that case, spending more time practicing - while a wise move to cement your skills - will most likely not reduce your nervousness.

Why not? The answer lies in the last of these lessons.

5. Change Your Beliefs, Change Your Nervousness

Why can two people with the same skill level and preparation go on stage, perform the same material, for the same crowd, and one is suave and confident while the other is a nervous wreck?

Because they have different beliefs about the situation.

Albert Ellis, a pioneer of psychology, came up with a simple model to explain this: The ABC Model.

A stands for Activating Event, in this case, going on stage.

B stands for rational or irrational Belief, and C, for the Consequential Feeling arising out of those beliefs.

So, if person A's Belief is that going on stage is no big deal and they’ll be fine even if they mess up, their Consequential Feeling will be little to no nervousness.

But, if person B's Belief is that everybody is judging them and making a mistake will be the worst thing in the world, they put a lot of pressure on themselves. As a result, their Consequential Feeling will be one of anxiety, maybe even panic.

Once I learned how to change my beliefs about social situations (from “Everybody is judging me, making a mistake will be horrible…” to “Talking to people is no big deal, and even if I mess up, nobody cares anyways…”), everything became much less terrifying.

And, if you can do the same when it comes to going on stage, your stage fright will be much easier to deal with.

So, there you have it! Five lessons beating social anxiety taught me about overcoming stage fright.

If you liked this article, I invite you to check out my blog over at, where I share more tips on how to overcome stage fright.

Claude Jordan used to deal with crippling social anxiety. After a lot of reading and hard work, he beat it and realized the techniques he used work like a charm for stage fright too. Now, he helps other people beat stage fright by sharing his knowledge on his website.

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