Music performance anxiety – a social anxiety disorder or not?
The topic of performance anxiety is not only relevant to the performing arts. In fact, it affects many of us in various situations, from sitting an important test or speaking in public. Anticipating anxiety before such events is not necessarily a bad thing, though. It can help us feel more motivated or focus more effectively and boost our performance. The degree to which we are more or less anxious may depend on factors such as personality, environmental pressures, and how well we feel prepared.
Most of us will feel nervous in performance situations but manage just fine. In some cases, however, performance anxiety can become severe and hinder individuals from performing successfully or performing at all. In such cases, individuals may seek help from a therapist.
To date, performance anxiety in general and music performance anxiety have not received much attention in traditional classification systems and are rarely discussed in conventional journals or textbooks. Severe performance anxiety is often thought of as social anxiety disorder. However, evidence emerging over the last years has called this into question.
Understanding how music performance anxiety relates to other anxiety disorders can be useful, particularly for therapists who may use different tools depending on the presenting core issues.
In this latest study, PhD candidate Anna Wiedemann looked at the complex relationship of music performance anxiety and other major anxiety disorders such as social or generalised anxiety to shed further light on this phenomenon’s anxiety-related characteristics.
While most musicians in her study showed moderate levels of performance anxiety (suggesting a rather “healthy” performance experience), she found no evidence of music performance anxiety being primarily connected to social anxiety. Instead, generalised anxiety acted as the strongest predictor of how anxious an individual may be on stage.