The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines stage fright as “extreme nervousness experienced by an actor on the stage, esp. on his first appearance.” Performance anxiety, the clinical label for stage fright, expands the definition to include any situation in which we are exhibiting ourselves to or entertaining an audience. Both terms limit our understanding of an anxiety that is so common that we accept its milder manifestations in our everyday, nonstage life as normal.
A first date, a job interview, a business meeting–the intensity of the symptoms may vary, but all of us feel some amount of anxiety whenever we present ourselves to people by whom we expect to be judged. When we are “stage frightened” we are assuming that an uneven distribution of power exists–it’s us against them, and they’ve got all the power. When we are “performance anxious” we are anticipating rejection, failure, and consequent humiliation.