Picture this: you're standing on a stage, the spotlight blinding, and a thousand pairs of eyes locked on you.
Your heart races, your palms sweat, and your mind goes blank.
Performance anxiety strikes, and suddenly, you feel like Eminem in "Lose Yourself" as the words won't come out. But fear not!
We're about to embark on a journey that will unlock the secrets to conquering performance anxiety and achieving your best self.
Whether you're gearing up for public speaking, facing test-taking fear, or bracing yourself for an important athletic event, we've got your back.
Welcome to the complete guide on performance anxiety, where we'll delve into the intricate workings of the brain, the stress response, and the powerful potential of CBD in calming the storm.
Get ready to transform that nervous energy into a confident stride as we explore the fascinating world of performance anxiety and the science-backed solutions that can make a real difference.
We're going to dive into the following:
- The performance anxiety circuit
- Neuropeptide Y and performance anxiety
- The HPA axis and performance anxiety
- The endocannabinoid and performance anxiety
- Can CBD help with performance anxiety
- Public speaking anxiety
- Fear of flying anxiety
- Test-taking anxiety
- Athletic anxiety
- How much CBD to take prior to a performance
- What kind of CBD to take for benzo withdrawals
Let's get started. We have a test to take! (or a flight to catch… or fill in the blank).
The performance anxiety circuit
First, let's not completely bash anxiety for performance.
It's actually a natural response to make us perform at our best.
In fact, one study found that a bit of anxiety improved performance in a test:
When people felt more anxious they showed greater activation in the performance system of the brain compared to when they felt less anxious. And, this heightened activation as a result of feeling more performance anxiety predicted better, not worse, performance.
The problem is when expectations trigger a fight or flight response which overrides our ability to even put together two words!
See our article on CBD and glutamate regarding mental health.
Let's look at that piece first then we'll dig down deeper!
There are two forces at work here.
How anxiety affects skilled based performance.
The prefrontal cortex (more on that below) is our rational, thinking center of the brain.
If it has to do all those calculations, good luck making a basketball shot.
That's why if you try to really think about the shot, you'll probably miss it. Even pros (hello...foul shots).
This directly affects certain types of motor skill-based performance anxiety:
When performance anxiety becomes overwhelming, the prefrontal cortex kicks into high gear and interferes with activity in these brain circuits, leading a person to fumble and choke under pressure.
This is the reason that NBA players shoot free-throws about 10% worse in games versus practice.
What about performance anxiety for non-skilled things such as test-taking, flying, or public speaking?
Let's get into the anxiety circuit for that one.
See our article on How CBD can boost GABA for anxiety.
The Anxiety Circuit and Performance anxiety
This really is a battle of two brains.
In this corner, you have your Prefrontal Cortex, our rational brain and the newest addition to our human skull in evolutionary terms.
It sits right behind your forehead.
Now, as we go deeper into the brain, we'll enter the limbic area which is much older (evolutionarily speaking).
We share it with most living animals down to lizards...hence the coined name...our "reptilian" brain.
This is the seat of many automatic functions and emotional processing.
Fear and anxiety reside here!
The two "brains" are constantly in cross-talk with a type of checks and balances going on with each other but in times of stress, danger, or the potential for harm, something interesting happens.
First, understand that the amygdala (threat detector) is the hare and our prefrontal cortex is the tortoise.
This makes sense.
If the bush rattles, the amygdala assumes the tiger and causes the body to respond (jump back!).
The signal eventually gets to the prefrontal cortex that figures out that it was just a bird.
Calm down. It's okay. The message eventually gets back to the amygdala after review.
Now think of how that feels when you initially jump back from the bush.
THAT'S the feeling of performance anxiety but it's stuck ON in anticipation of a test, flight, speech, basketball game, etc.
An interesting term was given to it:
the amygdala triggers a sudden and intense unconscious emotional response that shuts off the cortex, making it hard for you to think clearly about the situation.
Then comes in the rush of cortisol, our stress hormone and the tailspin is complete!
This cortisol and stress response is key to how we might address performance anxiety below so earmark that!
Keep in mind that stress, in general, can erode the function of our prefrontal cortex:
Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities, and more prolonged stress exposure causes architectural changes in prefrontal dendrites.
This is a big hint at why some people may have performance anxiety in a given situation while others seem to breeze right through.
We're going to cover that in detail below because this gets into a general anxiety "trait" processing of stress. (see CBD and general anxiety disorder).
That's very interesting as we can have an effect there.
There's a great walk through this whole shift in brain control here:
Under conditions of psychological stress (see part b of the figure) the amygdala activates stress pathways in the hypothalamus and brainstem, which evokes high levels of noradrenaline (NA) and dopamine (DA) release. This impairs PFC regulation but strengthens the amygdala function, thus setting up a ‘vicious cycle’.
Let's dig a little deeper into why some people might have performance anxiety while others do not.
Our first player...neuropeptide Y.
Neuropeptide Y and performance anxiety
Now we're diving into the stress response.
Think of Top Gun.
Why can some people handle extreme situations and not freak out?
We each have a natural set point on the stress threshold.
Interestingly, new research is showing that the endocannabinoid system may be a major player here (more on that below).
Let's look another more specific player….neuropeptide Y.
You probably haven't heard of this chemical which is interesting since it is the most abundant neuropeptide in the brain!
In the CNS, NPY and its receptors (Y1, Y2, Y4, Y5) play important roles in the control of food intake, energy homeostasis, pain, and many behavioral and physiological processes associated with stress and stress resilience
The tie with the stress response is especially important for performance anxiety:
People high in NPY tend to be unusually psychologically resilient and resistant to breaking down in high-pressure situations.
This is a measure of resilience and stress response...both tied to our threshold for what we can handle.
That article is a pretty interesting review of how too little or too much anxiety can be bad for performance.
Another study found an interesting connection between higher NPY (plus lower cortisol) and those soldiers who handled extreme stress better:
Blood samples taken from soldiers in the training programs showed those who fared best under extreme stress had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and higher levels of neuropeptide y, a chemical that dampens the body’s stress response.
Long term stress response may be a function of being able to repair and replace neurons in key areas of the anxiety circuit.
A key area which helps to modulate stress and anxiety response is the hippocampus:
Two particular brain areas of where NPY effects neurogenesis are the sub-ventricular zone and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.
The net effect that we're focused on for performance anxiety:
These data also replicate our previous finding that greater levels of NPY release are associated with less psychologic distress suggesting that NPY confers anxiolytic activity.
"Anxiolytic" just means anti-anxiety.
This is where things get interesting.
On to the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid and performance anxiety
For those new to the term, we all have an endocannabinoid system.
In fact, we share it with every living animal and it's dated back to about 600 million years ago evolutionarily speaking.
Multiple studies are showing that this system is tasked with balancing other key systems:
- Nervous system - brain signaling and neurotransmitters such as NPY
- Immune system - including inflammatory responders
- Endocrine system - including hormones such as cortisol and stress hormones
Think of it as a support system OR checks and balances for the other systems.
Some interesting studies shed a light on the roots of performance anxiety.
Chronic stress leads to epigenetic dysregulation in the neuropeptide-Y and cannabinoid CB1 receptor genes in the mouse cingulate cortex.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27737789
CB1 is our primary endocannabinoid receptor in the brain and nervous system.
We have lots of research on how early stress, trauma, and/or infection can dysregulate our stress response system....later in life!
Interestingly, they had to affect both the NPY and CB1 activity to correct the change.
The two we're highly intertwined in stress response.
Now we throw in the CRF (check out CBD and CRF for anxiety) which is a key initiator of the stress response:
The interplay of the endocannabinoid system with neuropeptide Y and corticotropin-releasing factor in the goldfish forebrain.
That study is our first introduction to a key endocannabinoid...Anandamide!
It's called the "bliss" molecule named after the Hindu goddess Anand.
It's known to have a powerful anti-anxiety effect (see the lady who can't feel pain or anxiety here).
What's the relationship with NPY?
The cannabinoid agonists anandamide (AEA) and CP55,940 both significantly augmented resting and KCl-evoked NPY release.
So Anandamide "significantly" boosts levels of NPY. Put a checkmark next to that for later.
That's a great jumping-off point for CBD itself.
Can CBD help with performance anxiety
CBD works to bolster the endocannabinoid system we discussed above.
You can learn exactly what CBD is here.
We've covered the effects of CBD and anxiety pathways in-depth here.
Let's look specifically at performance anxiety and the actors more unique to it.
Specifically, NPY, Cortisol, and Anandamide.
We're then going to look at a study on actual performance anxiety...public speaking.
Let's first lay the groundwork.
Starting with NPY.
Remember how Anandamide (our endocannabinoid) which is anti-anxiety in effect was shown to boost NPY levels?
Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia
Behavioral anti-stress actions of NPY are noteworthy in that (1) their magnitude surpasses that of other endogenous compounds;
With CBD, we have a way of supporting NPY when exhausted or low! Not too high so we don't see tolerance.
What about cortisol...our primary stress hormone?
We have an entire article exploring the effects of CBD on cortisol but a quick summary:
Another crossover study showed that plasma cortisol levels decreased more significantly when given oral CBD, 300 to 600 mg,
What about CHR (Corticotropin hormone releaser), which starts the whole fight or flight ball rolling?
Again, we have an entire article on CBD and CHR for anxiety here but the net net:
Reduction of AEA–CB1R signaling in the amygdala mediates the anxiogenic effects of corticotropin-releasing hormone
To translate, anandamide was responsible for offsetting the anxiety response from CRF!
There's that Anandamide again (AEA) and we know the positive effects CBD has on its levels in the brain.
The key there is FAAH.
FAAH breaks down anandamide and people with too much of it due to genetic differences can have a range of anxiety and stress-response issues:
individuals with eCB system gene polymorphisms that reduce eCB tone—for example, FAAH gene polymorphisms—exhibit physiological, psychological, and neuroimaging features consistent with impaired fear regulation
The woman who is unable to feel pain or anxiety has an extreme version of this gene mutation.
What about CBD and FAAH?
CBD decreased FAAH and increased p-GSK3β expression in stressed animals, which was also attenuated by AM630.
By eating up FAAH, CBD allows more anandamide to flow.
We've looked at the pathways that create fight or flight (performance anxiety)
Check out these articles for more information on CBD and the anxiety circuit:
If only we had a specific study on CBD's effect on performance anxiety directly.
Public speaking anxiety
We look forward to more studies like this one.
We've covered CBD and public speaking in-depth but a quick synopsis.
First, public speaking is the absolute best proxy for performance anxiety.
It's the #1 fear people have universally (even more than death).
- Social anxiety cues (fear of rejection, judgment, failure)
- Performance of cognitive skills (memory, presentation, etc)
- Heightened intensity and focus
We might as well just do stand up and call it a day!
So...researchers gave ½ of the participants 600 mgs of CBD prior to public speaking versus a control placebo group (double-blind study).
To make things more interesting, a further division had social anxiety disorder versus a control group.
Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech.
The subjective results from the participants were even more powerful:
The SSPS-N scores evidenced significant increases during the testing of the placebo group that was almost abolished in the CBD group.
SSPS-N is a test of anxiety from the person's point of view (Negative Self Statement Scale).
Difference with control (no social anxiety disorder)..."Abolished".
Remember how performance anxiety also shows in actual physiological cues (raised blood pressure, elevated heart rate, etc)?
this result suggests that CBD also protects the patients from their subjective physiological abnormalities induced by the SPST
Many times, we pick up on our internal cues (heart rate, etc) and that sets the performance anxiety in motion.
In fact, performance anxiety may be partially the result of someone being more interoceptive...in touch with their bodies!
There's an important take-away from this study beyond performance anxiety itself.
The negative self-statement test is a huge factor with social anxiety.
How we perceive ourselves!
The fact that this response was negated in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) during public speaking is huge!
We look forward to more studies on test-taking, athletic performance, and other aspects but public speaking is a perfect example of CBD's effects.
CBD and test-taking performance anxiety
One key takeaway from the public speaking and CBD study above was this:
The cognitive impairment, discomfort, and alert of SAD patients that received CBD had similar results to the HC during the SPST.
SAD are people that have social anxiety disorder. HC is health control.
So basically, the addition of CBD prior to a cognitive task in people with Social Anxiety reduced the cognitive impairment tied to performance anxiety down to levels found in healthy control groups.
This is critical for test-taking fear.
Yes, we want to reduce or eliminate "freezing up" but we also want our full mental faculties for the test.
It's a test after all!
This is where THC has opposite effects!
CBD also lacks the sedation effect that benzos carry which include groggy thinking (not great for test-taking).
What about physical abilities?
CBD and Athletic performance anxiety
There are both physical and mental aspects of athletic anxiety disorder.
The mental is pretty well defined by the public speaking speaking study and our general article on CBD and anxiety pathways.
What about the physical?
There are many studies on CBD's effect on motor skills as it pertains to disease or illness that affects that area.
Parkinson's is a good example:
Our data show that CBD is able to attenuate motor and cognitive impairments induced by reserpine, suggesting the use of this compound in the pharmacotherapy of Parkinson’s disease and tardive dyskinesia.
Basically, CBD was able to offset the decline in motor skills as a result of a chemical that causes issues there.
Again, more serious but telling, CBD helped after spinal cord injury:
Cannabidiol-treated rats exhibited a higher Basso, Beattie, and Bresnahan locomotor score at the end of the first week after spinal cord injury.
We have not come across studies that show impairment from CBD (isolate, by itself...can't speak for full spectrum or hemp oil).
It doesn't carry the usual warnings about driving cars and heavy machinery!
Let's look at some practical questions now.
CBD and sexual performance anxiety
We have two entire articles on this subject:
The latter gets into a range of different effects CBD has that directly affect performance anxiety for both sexes.
Remember that Negative Self Statement score up above?
That's basically how a person judges or sees themselves during a stressful and vulnerable situation (public speaking in that case).
The results flatlined in people with social anxiety when compared to healthy controls.
Check out the graph here (ridiculous results):
Sexual performance anxiety is a direct result of this negative self-assessment.
This may be the most exciting piece of information in this whole article both in the bedroom and upon the stage.
Again, check out the other two articles for in-depth information on CBD and premature ejaculation and CBD and sex.
How much CBD to take prior to a performance
The public speaking example for people with social anxiety used one dosage of 600 mg about 1 ½ hours before the speech,
This is a higher amount but pretty common for studies into more serious issues.
It's always good to test CBD first at about 25-30 mgs to see how your system responds.
We only deal with CBD Isolate in MCT oil (organic coconut extract) since it's the cleanest approach for CBD.
This can remove many side effects tied to histamine responses from full-spectrum CBD or hemp oil.
From there, you can test levels to see what works best for you.
300 mg is usually a pretty high level prior to any anticipatory performance anxiety.
A general rule based on experience is from 100 mg to 300 mg depending on your social anxiety state and the nature of the performance.
Peak CBD usually occurs about 1-2 hours prior and uptake can be as quick as 10 minutes if held under the tongue up to 60 seconds before swallowing.
There are long term cumulative effects with CBD for anxiety in general and social anxiety specifically which may improve long term performance.
We also recommend (based on research) meditation and exercise to improve neurogenesis along with CBD here.
See our article on CBD and Brain repair for neurogenesis.
This is key to long term anxiety circuit repair!
The best CBD for performance anxiety
A few keynotes here.
All the research out there is for CBD Isolate.
Not full-spectrum CBD. Not hemp oil.
See our article on isolate versus full-spectrum.
CBD by itself.
That's why we crafted IndigoNaturals the way it is...to conform with the maximum benefit according to research (which we pour over hours a day).
Also, we want to avoid the histamine response to all that plant material.
Histamine is excitatory in the brain.
It revs things up which is the wrong direction. Huge player with insomnia if that's any indication.
Histamine release can also cause cortisol release (our stress hormone from above).
We want to dial that back so CBD Isolate is best for performance anxiety.
For anxiety in general really!
We also don't want to smell like ragweed. The first date thing.
The hemp oil-based for full spectrum can be pretty strong both in taste, smell, and color.
Plus, some of the other cannabinoids can alter performance both cognitively and physically.
We need to be at the top of our game whatever that game is.
Perform well. Be well. Knock it out of the park!
Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!
The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.