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Managing anxiety in sport and life

It's totally normal to feel anxious when facing a high-stakes or high pressure situation as often occurs in the world of competitive sports. So, how do you know when you might need to seek support for anxiety issues?

Anxiety is a normal emotion to experience and also a necessary one. It lets us know when we need to be ready to take action and be on guard. The problem comes when our anxiety is irrational, or disproportionate to the issues at hand. You will probably find if you pay attention, that your anxious moments are closely linked to your thoughts. Maybe you're feeling anxious in the run up to a competition. You might notice that you are filling your head with 'what ifs' and having images in your minds eye of crushing defeat. Your anxiety is a response to what you tell yourself in your inner dialogue and the movie you play in your mind. If you are telling yourself that you are in great shape and picturing yourself getting a personal best time you are unlikely to feel as anxious. You could say anxiety cannot exist in the absence of an anxiety inducing thought!

What that leads to is the need to change our thoughts. Replace negative thoughts for positive ones. Sounds easy! And it's an easier process when we know that our anxiety is irrational. But what about when we actually buy into the anxious belief that underpins the thought? It's hard to try and convince ourselves of something that is at odds with our beliefs. What if the stakes really are that high? Often there is no point trying to convince yourself that everything will be okay. To do so might help somewhat, but when you avoiding dealing with the thing you fear, you can tend to get stuck.

In this situation, it's not about modifying your thoughts as much as accepting them. Yes! It might all go wrong. What if it does? What will that mean for you? Check out the possible scenarios. You might find that though it would be bad, you would survive. You can also learn to accept the thoughts without engaging with them, allowing them to come and go without getting into an internal dialogue with them.

You might want to look at getting support or sport psychotherapy /sport counselling if there are scenarios where you find your anxiety is overwhelming you and is getting in the way of you succeeding. This applies to people in general who find anxiety stopping them moving forward in some important way. Ask yourself: is this scenario one that most people would find anxiety provoking? If it is, then it's not an irrational anxiety but may be realistic one. Then it's about managing your anxiety so that it is of use to you. This can be about understanding it in a different way, or simply accepting it as part of what goes on for you.

If your anxiety is not just related to specific scenarios, but actually is a feature of your life and character, then more work may need to be done to overcome it. It may be that you hold certain beliefs about the world - along the lines of the world being a dangerous place, and you may be hyper-vigilant to any risks. You may even hold some magical ideas about anxiety - that by worrying you somehow prevent something bad happening and that if you didn't worry you would be tempting fate. It's an individual thing and often worth exploring through counselling /sports psychotherapy to understand why you feel as you do.

If that's the case, contact me at for a free consultation to see how I can support your mental health in sport and managing anxiety.

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