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A focus on anxiety - #MentalHealthAwarenessweek

Anxiety is something we can all experience from time-to time. There are lots of reasons why we get this feeling. It can be connected to a job, school, a relationship, social situations, how we feel about ourselves, or a change in our life. If we don’t know how to cope with our feelings of anxiety, they can get out of control and stop us from doing the things we need or want to do. The more often and the longer we feel anxious, the more it can become a problem.


Dealing with anxiety can be hard. But there are some things we can do to manage these tough feelings. While everyone's individual experience differs, some common signs of anxiety include:


In some instances, people can experience panic attacks due to anxiety. During a panic attack, a person may experience intense, overwhelming fear, nausea, chest pain, pounding heart, difficulty breathing, and dizziness.


How does anxiety affect us in sport?

  • A certain level of physical arousal is helpful and prepares us for competition. However, when the physical symptoms of anxiety are too high, they can interfere with your ability to compete.

  • Anxiety before or during competitions can interfere with your performance as a gymnast.

  • The coordinated movement required to perform can become difficult when your body is tense.

  • A certain amount of worry about how you perform can be helpful in competition. At the same time, negative thought patterns and expectations of failure can be difficult to ignore.

  • Anxiety may be affecting your performance if there is a large difference between how you feel during training and how you do during competitions.


Causes of anxiety in sport:

In Sport Psychology one of our focus areas is to help athletes prepare their minds for competition. One step in that process is helping them understand what causes anxiety within the sport environment. Several factors can play a role in causing anxiety. Some of the ones I have come across most frequently in sport are:

  • Social anxiety (in this case the fear of being watched) – Sport can often mean a large crowd as a lot of parents; family members and coaches are watching which can make us feel anxious.

  • Lack of experience – as we are sometimes introduced to competition environments at a very young age an inexperienced athlete is more likely than seasoned professionals to experience anxiety that interferes with your ability to perform in competition. This makes sense due to your relative lack of experience in competition and managing feelings of being "pumped up.“

  • Solo sports: For some people being involved in an individual sport can mean that you are more likely to experience anxiety than those who play team sports. It makes sense that being part of a team helps manage some of the pressure you feel when competing alone (however, a good support network around you can help to alleviate this).

  • Competition location: If you compete at a larger venue or somewhere new that you haven’t been to before then you are likely to experience higher levels of anxiety.

Coping with anxiety in sport…

There are many strategies you can employ to reduce performance anxiety symptoms, such as the following:

  • Prepare: Ensure you have practiced enough to be confident during the competition or match.

  • Get social support: Ask friends or family to support you. Knowing that your support system is there to cheer you on can help you feel more confident and less anxious.

  • Reframe arousal: Learn how to interpret arousal during the competition as positive or acceptable rather than negative.

  • Challenge negative thoughts: Negative thoughts can make anxiety competitions worse. Identifying negative thoughts allows you to actively challenge them and replace them with more positive, realistic ways of thinking.

  • Use positive self-talk: How you talk to yourself about your performance can also influence the amount of anxiety you experience. Positive self-talk can contribute to greater confidence, better performance, and less anxiety.

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