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Competitive Anxiety

Written by Lanna Wei

What is Competitive Anxiety?

Over 50% of American high school students participate in sport activities, and most oftentimes, a large amount of them will have experienced competitive anxiety. Most commonly found in sports, competitive anxiety involves athletes feeling symptoms of stress and overwhelming emotions surrounding the intense demands of competition. Especially for high-level individuals, the pressure of hopefully going professional is extremely real, and it often turns a game that they love into a terrifying situation. As an athlete that definitely can relate to the feelings of competitive anxiety, you quickly find yourself dreading games and tournaments- even regular practice. You’re often frightened of embarrassing yourself, making a wrong move, and causing a loss for the entire team and letting them down. For me, particularly, this sort of anxiety is all a balance of pressure from the sport and the strive to improve oneself. Many athletes also overlook competitive anxiety, claiming it to be simply “part of the game”. However, just like any other form of stress, long-term anxiety wears down your body physically and mentally, making it more difficult to play at your highest level.

A person currently struggling with this might show signs like sweating profusely, their heart beating a lot faster than normal, shallow breathing, and difficulty concentrating. They might feel a symptom typically known as “butterflies in their stomach”, trembling, and also cognitive symptoms like thinking of failure, loss of confidence, etc. It is normal and healthy to feel a bit anxious during sports and other competitive activities, however a build-up of this anxiety and pressure negatively affects an individual. A lot of the time, competitive anxiety stems from the person holding themselves to unbelievably high expectations and feeling like a failure if they can’t achieve what they set out to achieve.

How to Deal With It

Cognitive restructuring- a term used to describe the process when a person purposely tries to change their way of thinking for personal benefit. Competitive anxiety is not something that immediately can disappear, and it involves the athlete focusing and taking their time to shift their way of thinking, also lowering their own expectations of themselves. Sports are some people’s entire worlds, which makes it even more important to maintain a good relationship with the activity.

Some ways to lower the effects of competitive anxiety are to take time before a game or math and prepare yourself for the event. Find a quiet and comfortable place where you can close your eyes and concentrate on your thoughts. Regulate your breathing and feel your heart rate beat slower while focusing on the positive aspects of the game, reminding yourself that a mistake is a mistake and not to blame yourself too harshly for your actions. Positive self-talk is also a very effective technique and provides yourself boosts of confidence, balancing the pressures of the game with good thoughts. By boosting the confidence in your abilities, athletes are able to relieve some of the anxiety that they’re experiencing. Take a bit of time thinking about your previous accomplishments and how proud you felt about completing them. Use the self-talk to channel all the positive energy into the competition, and get out there and do your best.


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