How Does Anxiety Affect Performance?

Anxiety negatively affects athletic, professional, academic and sexual performance. It can cause fear and create an inability to concentrate on the activity at hand. It also has physiological consequences, such as shortness of breath, sweating, a racing heart, shakiness and dizziness.

Anxiety is an overwhelming sense of fear caused by a perceived threat and self-doubt in one's ability to deal with the threat. Anxiety can delay or hinder performance because the anxious person worries more than is necessary about the outcome. This causes the anxious person to be distracted by outside stimuli that detracts from the immediate task.

In a study by the Economic and Social Research Council, anxious students took longer to read a story with errors than students who were not anxious, particularly when they thought they were going to be evaluated on their performance. Similarly, sexual performance is impeded by the worry that one will not be able to perform sexually, creating a negative cycle that leads to deeper anxiety.

A person with anxiety can improve performance by using deep breathing exercises, writing about their worries and seeking outside help. Another way to reduce anxiety is to get in the habit of preparing more fully for difficult tasks, which increases confidence.