Is performance anxiety getting the best of you? Are you overwhelmed with panic at the thought of competing in front of others? Do your limbs become a bundle of nerves and your stomach a knot of butterflies come game time? We know the feeling. And we’re here to help! In this three-part series, we’re sharing our best tips to help you navigate those meddlesome feelings of self-doubt and fear, and reduce your anxiety when you’re under pressure.
Follow us here on the blog or on Facebook/Twitter for three tips on managing anxiety during the month of April. In case you missed Tip #1, click here to learn how to focus on what you can control instead of what you can’t. Now for Tip #2!
Tip #2: Embrace Anxiety
As uncomfortable as it can feel, anxiety plays a critical role when it comes to performance—on the field, in the pool, on the track, or on the stage—and different levels of anxiety can both help or hinder that quality performance. Let’s say, for example, you’re minutes away from the starting buzzer of the biggest game of the year. Would you want to feel pumped up for the competition with adrenaline racing, ready to get out there and tackle your opponent? Or feel a more subdued, concentrated sense of calm readiness? Every athlete is different in what they prefer and different sports require different degrees of anxiety or what’s sometimes called “activation.” All types of performances, both sport and non-sport, require varying levels of activation in order to achieve optimal performance. This theory, called the Yerkes-Dodson Law, dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental activation (arousal), but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.1 Different tasks require different levels of arousal for optimal performance. Difficult or intellectually demanding tasks may require a lower level of arousal (to facilitate concentration), whereas tasks demanding stamina or persistence may be performed better with higher levels of arousal (to increase motivation). When activation levels rise too high, feelings of panic and stress can emerge, leading to too much anxiety, poor problem-solving skills and “tunnel vision,” which is not conducive to peak sport performance! On the other hand, in the absence of any anxiety at all, a mellow, low-pressure response does not elicit optimal performance either…an athlete can be too flat. Therefore, some nervousness is helpful and it’s important to embrace those nerves and use them to your advantage. Finding the right amount of anxiety/arousal/activation for you and your sport can be difficult and takes practice. Try deep slow breaths or listening to relaxing music (to decrease activation) or upbeat music (to increase it). Most importantly, embrace anxiety as a natural part of performance and that it can be useful in many situations at the appropriate level!