Anxiety is something too many people suffer from, especially under stressful situations, sport being one of them. For an athlete, anxiety can be a major problem and it very easily affects performance. Dealing with anxiety in sport is important and getting it under control could mean winning, losing, or at least performing well.
Firstly, it’s important to understand what anxiety is. It affects how you feel, how you behave and it has very real physical symptoms. Anxiety has two forms; state and trait anxiety. State anxiety is an unpleasant feeling when confronted with specific situations, demands or a particular object or event. It’s a temporary condition in response to some perceived threat. Trait anxiety is a personality characteristic rather than a temporary feeling, so different people will have a different degrees of state anxiety to specific situations, and will experience anxiety toward a broader range of situations or objects than most people.
For athletes, anxiety is often evident when you feel uneasy about something, but can’t define what it is. Your heart starts beating faster, your palms sweat and your muscles tense up. Fear of Negative Evaluation (FNE) is a form of anxiety common in sport – and it’s where an athlete performs in front of people and has apprehensions because they believe they are being judged or perceived negatively. A side effect of FNE is that you may feel more winded or more fatigued than usual or feel like your muscles are failing you, even when all of this is not true.
Besides getting professional help, especially if severe, there are a few general tips which can help you curb this problem and get it under control.
5 Tips in Dealing with Anxiety in Sport
* Ensure you get enough sleep before events which make you anxious. Sleep has so many positive effects that getting the right amount of sleep will leave you feeling more relaxed and less anxious. Read this great feature on sleep and sport too.
* Controlled breathing works really well. Practice diaphragmatic breathing; place your one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Breathe in and out and use your full lung capacity by only allowing your hand on your abdomen to move (i.e. breathing through your abdomen). Also exhale for twice as long as you inhale.
* Replace negative thoughts with positive actions. When you start to feel anxious, physically do something positive – even if it’s a few burpees or push-ups. Find what works for you. Distracting yourself will go a long way.
* Read this great article on how high expectations could lead to bad performance – it includes some great helpful tips.
* Finally, read this great feature on competition prep and the tips given there to deal with anxiety during competitions.