Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Performance anxiety

On call

Performance anxiety

Q. I am a 38-year-old junior executive. My work gets good marks from my supervisors, but I have a problem that may hamper my career. Every time I have to make a presentation, I get terribly nervous, making it very hard for me to get through my talk. I've heard there is a pill that can help, but I don't want to take tranquilizers. What do you suggest?

A. Although your symptoms occur in a corporate boardroom, not a theatre, your problem is best known by its popular name, stage fright. It's a common problem that doctors diagnose as performance anxiety. And it responds beautifully to treatment.

The best drugs are beta blockers. First introduced for the treatment of angina around 1970, these medications are not tranquilizers or sedatives. They don't help ordinary anxiety, they're not habit forming, and they don't act on the central nervous system. Instead, they slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure, and help calm certain tremors.

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