High school athlete listening to a pre-game warmup on the track

Athletes with anxiety: How to manage it and succeed

Athletes at all levels, from youth to professional, can experience anxiety. It is a normal human emotion that can be caused by a variety of factors, such as pressure to perform, fear of failure, or competition nerves. While some anxiety can be motivating, too much anxiety can interfere with performance and enjoyment of sports.

What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety in athletes?

Some common signs and symptoms of anxiety in athletes include:

  • Physical symptoms: increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, stomachaches, shortness of breath, dizziness
  • Cognitive symptoms: negative thoughts, such as “I’m going to fail” or “I’m not good enough,” difficulty concentrating, overthinking
  • Behavioral symptoms: avoidance of training or competition, perfectionism, irritability, difficulty sleeping

What are the causes of anxiety in athletes?

There are many possible causes of anxiety in athletes, including:

  • Performance pressure: Athletes often feel pressure to succeed, both from themselves and from others. This pressure can lead to anxiety, especially if the athlete has a history of failure or has not performed well recently.
  • Fear of failure: Athletes may fear failing to meet their own expectations or the expectations of others. This fear can lead to anxiety and avoidance of training or competition.
  • Competition nerves: It is normal for athletes to feel some nerves before a competition. However, too much anxiety can interfere with performance.
  • Other factors: Other factors that can contribute to anxiety in athletes include personality traits, life stressors, and mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder.

How can athletes manage anxiety?

There are a number of things that athletes can do to manage anxiety, including:

  • Identify triggers: The first step to managing anxiety is to identify what triggers it. Once athletes know their triggers, they can develop strategies for coping with them.
  • Develop coping skills: There are a number of coping skills that athletes can use to manage anxiety, such as relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and mindfulness.
  • Seek professional help: If athletes are struggling to manage anxiety on their own, they may want to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor.

Here are some specific tips for athletes who are struggling with anxiety:

  • Talk to someone you trust. It can be helpful to talk to a coach, teammate, parent, or other expert in sports psychology about your anxiety. They can offer support and advice.
  • Create a pre-competition routine. A pre-competition routine can help athletes to feel more prepared and confident. This routine may include things like warming up, listening to music, or visualizing success.
  • Focus on the present moment. It can be easy to get caught up in worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. However, it is important for athletes to focus on the present moment and the task at hand.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Athletes with anxiety often have negative thoughts about themselves and their abilities. It is important to challenge these thoughts and replace them with more realistic and positive thoughts.
  • Accept that some anxiety is normal. It is normal for athletes to feel some anxiety before a competition. However, it is important to not let anxiety control you. Accept that some anxiety is normal and focus on what you can control.

Athletes with anxiety who succeed

Many successful athletes have struggled with anxiety. Here are a few examples:

  • Michael Phelps: Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time. However, he has also spoken openly about his struggles with anxiety. Phelps has said that he has learned to manage his anxiety through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation.
  • Simone Biles: Simone Biles is one of the most successful gymnasts of all time. However, she has also spoken openly about her struggles with anxiety. Biles has said that she has learned to manage her anxiety through therapy and medication.
  • Serena Williams: Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, she has also spoken openly about her struggles with anxiety. Williams has said that she has learned to manage her anxiety through prayer and meditation.

These athletes are just a few examples of how it is possible to succeed in sports while also struggling with anxiety. If you are an athlete with anxiety, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you manage your anxiety and succeed in your sport.