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Fear of failure

Fear of failure or performance anxiety, is the fear of failing when someone is being judged or thinks they are being judged. Everyone reacts in their own way in performance situations. Factors such as personality, upbringing and additional stress factors play a role in the level of anxiety.
What is it?

Everyone has a certain fear of failure (performance anxiety), however, the way you deal with these situations determines whether you suffer from it or not. 


Two categories can be distinguished:

Active fear of failure

The level of anxiety is being reduced by minimising the chances of failure. Students often tackle this issues by studying very intensively. More often than not, overwork is lurking in the process. Perfectionism can be regarded as a way of regulating the fears of potential failure. If the pressure gets too high, this way can also lead to passive fear of failure. In other words, you give up.

Passive fear of failure

The level of anxiety is being controlled by avoidance. In other words, students procrastinate. If you under-invest, you reduce your chances of success, making you well aware of what causes you to fail. The idea of studying hard and possibly failing, in the end, makes possible failure harder to accept. In the short term, this strategy provides peace of mind and protects your self-esteem. In the long term, however, as the exam or deadline approaches, stress and anxiety will build up. Feelings of sadness and despair may arise because your plan to start on time has failed again. Passive fear of failure can sometimes turn into active fear of failure. Lost time is made up in these circumstances by overworking.

Ambience photo Fontys

Forms of expression


  • Study and relaxation:: You almost can't stop studying. You continuously fret about your studies during relaxation. You do not start studying because it causes too much tension. Study planning: you are making very tight schedules... You become too optimistic in your study plans (studying 6 exams in 2 weeks will work). You engage in planning whilst you actually should be studying.
  • Interacting with others: For example, being too preoccupied with friends. Being agitated by messages about study progress from fellow students. Reacting dismissively to parents or friends.

Physical effects

  • Feeling ill: symptoms such as headache, stomach-ache, hyperventilation, nausea.
  • Feeling tense: Sweating, muscle cramps, turning red, being very alert.
  • Sleeping problems: Difficulty falling asleep or not sleeping at all, nightmares.
  • Eating problems: Eating too little or too much or binge eating to reduce stress.

Cognitive consequences

  • Inhibited thinking: Having difficulty to store information.
  • Mulling: Overthinking on certain topics.
  • Affective consequences:: Feelings of anxiety, gloom, sadness or frustration.

What can you do yourself?

Learning to cope with the fear of failure is about learning to regulate your emotions. We humans are focused on avoiding the feeling of anxiety as much as possible. Learning to regulate and tolerate this feeling is a challenge. 

Talk about it with others. Although you may be ashamed of the symptoms, you will find out that many people suffer from this. 


Contact team Student Guidance

  • If fair of failure is seriously affecting your mental well-being, please do not hesitate to book an appointment with a Fontys student psychologist.
  • Or, if you feel fair of failure is an impediment to your study progress, please book an appointment with a student counsellor.