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The Anxious Athlete


Athletes are used to the feeling of anxiety, and some anxiety is necessary and beneficial for performance. Most athletes can recognize the amount of anxiety that gets their system going and excited for a game or competition. This is the adrenaline rush, the "pumped" and "hyped" feelings before a game. Too much anxiety however, will wear on the body and the mind- leaving a person in an elongated stress response. ⠀⠀

Too much anxiety results in thought rumination (and not being able to move on to the next play), headache, rapid heart-rate trouble breathing, stomach issues, sweating, panic attacks, trouble concentrating, hyper aware of surroundings, perfectionism, avoidance/procrastination and insomnia. ⠀⠀

NCAA research shows that almost 85% of certified athletic trainers believe anxiety disorders are currently an issue with student-athletes on their campus. ⠀⠀

Often my strategy with clients is gaining awareness of how anxious they are throughout the day, and the signals their body gives as their anxiety builds. We can then be more aware of when to practice coping strategies and skills before they are in a full blown panic attack or just past what is optimal for performance or life. Those who struggle with anxiety can be triggered by an increased heart-rate, which makes athletics potentially challenging, so we also work on gaining awareness of what the “sweet spot” of anxiety for performance feels like in their bodies. Gaining awareness of the body while we work through the underlying thoughts and beliefs causing the anxiety.

Why is working through and managing anxiety important for athletes? 1. It can be physically and mentally debilitating, and keep one from living life to the fullest or reaching their potential. 2. Anxiety increases the risk of injury and decreases recovery/repair and rest! ⠀⠀ The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and initiates the fight-or-flight response. This is the nervous system where anxiety happens. ⠀⠀ The parasympathetic nervous system has almost the exact opposite effect and relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions. ⠀⠀ Rest and recovery can be impacted due to the influences anxiety can have on sleep (insomnia), and also b/c when a person has anxiety their sympathetic nervous system stays activated. If a person is anxious all day, their body is sending out stress response signals ALL day. Rest and repair happen in the parasympathetic nervous system, so it's imperative to learn the coping skills that help our bodies move into the "resting" nervous system so our bodies can repair themselves. Bodies that have time to rebuild after workouts and rest have a lower risk of injury!

More on the anxious athlete to come!