Author: Alexandra Salerno, LPC, NCC
The unknown is scary. Period. One of the hardest things; is not knowing what the future holds. We don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t say exactly what is going to happen. And that – is scary.
Whenever fear is present, anxiety tends to be right there with it. Anxiety is an intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about a situation. Anxiety can feel stronger in a situation that we haven’t encountered before. But it can also be there, even if we find ourselves in a situation that we’ve been in before. Overall, anxiety is normal and most people experience this in their day-to-day life.
Want to know a secret? A little bit of anxiety is a good thing! This allows our body to produce adrenaline and anticipate what is going to happen next. Adrenaline helps to keep us on our toes and ready for whatever might come our way.
Having too much anxiety or anxiety that feels crippling can be challenging. According to Scott Goldman, licensed psychologist and clinical director for University of Arizona’s athletic department, nearly one in three adolescents in the United States (31.9%) experience anxiety in their sport career, with half of this percentage experiencing anxiety by the age of 6 yrs. old. Further studies show that 30-60 percent of athletes will experience anxiety at some point in their career. Anxiety can be managed through skills and support. It doesn’t have to be this big, scary thing – and it doesn’t have to dictate your life.
There are symptoms athlete’s can be on the lookout for, that may be an indicator that they are experiencing anxiety:
- Physical symptoms such as sweating excessively, trembling, feeling weak or tired, light-headed, breathing rapidly (or feeling like you are unable to catch your breath), increased heart beat or chest pain, stomach pain, muscle tension, headaches
- Mental symptoms such as racing thoughts, trouble concentrating or focusing, having a sense of panic or dread, over-thinking
- Behavioral symptoms such as avoiding social situations or gatherings (i.e. beginning to skip practices)
For most athletes, anxiety tends to be a result of fears about the future and the unknown. However, for some athletes, anxiety can be a result of expectations, pressure, a fear of making mistakes, recruitment, or potential past challenges with a coach, teammates or a specific experience.
It is important to remember that anxiety is the body’s way of telling you, “Hey! Something doesn’t feel right…” and not a reflection of you as an athlete.
The next time you start to feel anxious try this quick skill:
1. Breathe in deeply for 3 counts and breath out fully for 5 counts.
2. Acknowledge the emotion (i.e. “I’m feeling anxious right now”, or “I notice my heart beating faster”, etc.)
3. Create a mantra for yourself (i.e. “I trust my training” or “I am not my anxiety and I’m choosing to not bring it to the game.”)
4. Focus on what you can control (i.e. yourself) and let go of the things you can’t (everything else.)
5. Repeat the breathing from step 1.
6. Nice work! Give yourself a pat on the back for taking a few seconds for yourself.
Remember, just because you are experiencing anxiety, doesn’t mean that your game will be affected in a negative way. Focus on your breathing, what you can control, and let your training and muscle memory do the rest.
Make it Great!
Goldman, S. 2022. Mind, body and sport: anxiety disorders. NCAA. NCAA.org.
How Stress Impacts Athlete’s Performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpG4CaCwdjc