Whether you’re a public speaker, an athlete, a performer, or a lover, your fight or flight system is there to help you survive. Your everyday stresses are read by your body in the same way, regardless of whether you are faced with a lion, a physical attack, a policeman giving you a ticket, or a fight with your spouse.

What is actually happening is that your fight or flight system causes you to pump cortisol, the stress hormone meant to save you from danger. Cortisol then bathes your brain, changing brain architecture temporarily, so that you react quickly and instinctively.

When you feel attacked, either physically or emotionally, you can’t stop to contemplate or use your executive function. So your body, in its wisdom, helps you act quickly to save your hide. This is the same system that your primitive ancestors used.

The problem is that, today, most of your threats are emotional, and your fight or flight system can’t recognize the difference. Therefore, cortisol is called upon consistently and ultimately wears down the body, like battery fluid, doing untold damage, both physically and emotionally.

Performance anxiety and the emotional stress it creates, can become a roadblock to our emotional and physical well-being, filtering down into other forms of anxiety, including sexual anxiety, relationship anxiety, social anxiety, test anxiety and so on.

Whether you’re a male or a female, sexual anxiety can promote dysfunction. If you’re uncomfortable with your body type, the size of your genitals, or your ability to orgasm, performance anxiety may rear its ugly head.

Performance anxiety impacts both sexes. As a woman, you may experience vaginal dryness, sexual pain, or discomfort. On the other hand, if you’re a male, premature ejaculation, impotence, or orgasm-delay, can be rooted in performance anxiety.

Regardless of whether you’re on a stage singing a song, giving a presentation, taking a test, running a football, or fighting a tiger, your fight or flight system operates in the exact same way. So what can you do about it?

  1. Relaxation techniques really do work. Breathing techniques, meditation, creative visualization, yoga, chi gong, are all strategies that teach you how to manage your stress level and anxiety.

  2. Stop critical self-talk. Everyone has within them that negative inner voice. Yet, whether you are a male or female, you have the capacity to deliberately overcome that chatter through behavior modification techniques. When destructive language pops up, talk back to it in a positive way. Remind yourself that critical thoughts come from your childhood, your insecurities and lack of self-esteem. Role model being your own parent, and talk yourself right out of your hypercritical dialogue.

  3. Practice. Rehearse that speech, practice that performance, that sexual experience.

  4. Lower your anxiety through journaling. Write down your feelings without self-editing. By looking at your feelings in black and white, you will automatically lower the decibels of tension. By focusing in a positive way on your authentic feelings, you can have empathy for yourself.

  1. Know your history. Performance anxiety is not an equal opportunity problem. If you have had poor bonding in early childhood, trauma, including parental divorce, a bad experience while performing, or have self-esteem issues, you will be more prone to a heightened state of anxiety when stressed in front of others. The fear of being judged, criticized, or exposed to scrutiny can be extremely painful to an insecure person. By knowing your history, you can make the decision to seek professional help if needed, as well as choose the appropriate stress-reduction technique for your particular issue.

  2. Practice techniques that help you de-stress sexually. These include honestly communicating to your partner both your fear and anxiety. This gives you a chance to work with your partner and opens the door to ever deeper trust, intimacy and connection. That is the skill of older couples who are trusting and comfortable with each other. Just the simple act of communicating your fears to your partner will immediately reduce sexual stress. Once liberated, you can work together to discover ways to enhance your sexual performance. By taking control of the cause of your anxiety, you’ll find that stress reduction can liberate you. Using strategies, such as creative visualization, imagining a successful sexual experience, or simply practicing, which can be a lot of fun, you will find that you and your partner can find both trust and deep fulfillment in each other’s arms.

In the final analysis, you can cure performance anxiety. At the end of the day, the journey through life is your journey and it really is all about you. So take the time to learn how to relax and thus, self-manage your own stress and you will conquer your fear of performing in front of others.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.