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HOW ATHLETES CAN REDUCE ANXIETY

Updated: Apr 14

I would say that 95% of the athletes reaching out to me today are struggling with anxiety. It's robbing them of their joy and success in sport. Before you quit, try this routine. It has effectively worked with my clients.



Does this sound like you? You’ve trained your body, but anxiety holds you back every time. Each athlete's story is unique as to why they have anxiety. Fear of not meeting your own expectations, disappointing someone, failure, or wasting all that hard training, are just a few reasons athletes tell me they feel anxious. A simple strategy can help you regain self-control.


Your inner critic is that voice that is actually trying to protect you from harm, but you want it to do that from the back seat, not the driver's seat.

First, let's talk about it. Simply put, anxiety is worrying about the future. The big fear is mostly that we will be embarrassed or ashamed. It's our own inner critic running the show, but you can tame her. What's happening is that your inner critic is actually trying to protect you from harm, but you're not really in danger. So tell it, "Thank you, but I've got this."


Recent research in the Journal of Health Psychology shows that mindful meditation—which puts you in the present moment—can actually help athletes feel more satisfied with their workouts and improve motivation, which improves focus. It's quite simple, really. Everything starts with the breath, and here's how you can get started...


Do this simple routine (or just pick one) to reduce anxiety:


  1. ELEVATOR BREATHING

  • Sit comfortably with hands and legs uncrossed, feet flat, and back supported.

  • Close the eyes and breathe in through the nose for 3 seconds, pause, and breathe out through the mouth for 4 seconds.

  • With your hand on your belly, you should be able to feel it rise and fall--not your shoulders.

  • Take a few slow deep breaths into the belly, then a few slow deep breaths into the hips. Take the elevator down breathing into upper legs, lower legs, and all the way down into your feet.


2. BODY SCAN

  • Gently breathe with eyes closed as you mentally scan the body starting at the feet. Slowly move your attention up the body and release any tension you might sense in those areas.


3. VISUALIZE

  • Continue the breath as you recall a time when you were calm, content, and in control. This could be a day at the beach or a successful workout or competition. Get in the present moment of that experience by asking yourself:

    • What do I see? I see...

    • What do I hear? I hear...

    • What do I feel? I feel...


4. PICK YOUR POWER WORD

  • Come up with a cue word or short phrase that evokes this experience and feeling.

  • Rehearse this as often as possible to strengthen your mental path to calm control.


Next time you need to dial down your nerves, say your power word(s) so you can access that calm control immediately, and blow away the barriers to success.


Meg Waldron has her Masters in Sport Psychology and has worked with thousands of athletes to help them recover joy and success in sport. A long-time sport coach, Meg was a high school track All-American and competed full scholarship at UVA. She brings 14 years as a teacher to her work with youth through adult clients.



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