Anxiety & Sport

Anxiety has many definitions and understandings, but it’s commonly known as subjective feelings of tension and apprehension that are associated with the arousal of the autonomic nervous system. It can exist as state anxiety (a reaction) whereby an individual’s response is relevant to the situation, or as trait anxiety (a personality trait) which is a general disposition to respond to relatively unthreatening situations with a high level of anxiety.

Sometimes anxiety can be good – it engages your fight or flight response as you rapidly detect danger, but it can impair performance through attentional narrowing. This means that it reduces your breadth of attention and increases attentional selectivity. In simpler terms, less attention is paid on your performance, and more on to these feelings of worry e.g. the crowd watching.

Athletes will encounter some situations that are more anxiety inducing than others; a friendly game at the end of training is unlikely to invoke severe feelings of anxiety in comparison to an Olympic gold medal match. Anxiety can cause choking in important moments, as co-ordinating movements becomes more difficult, the body will react with increased sweating, heart rate, so it’s important that athletes are equipped with ways to manage their anxiety.

A number of methods can be engaged including:

  • Imagery
  • Goal setting
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Cognitive therapy
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