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Performance Anxiety Basics


If we were single-celled organisms with one photoreceptor only sensitive to light and dark, the fight-or-flight response would be simple – we’d flee or stick around when something obstructed our light (i.e. cast a shadow and implied a possible larger single- or multi-celled predator). As more complex animals, our fight-or-flight response isn’t strictly light-sensitive and gets influenced by things like past experiences, present thoughts, and emotions.

Since we’re lucky enough to be capable of thought and self-awareness, we’re best served using these abilities to our advantage.

Asking yourself objective, non-judgmental questions may help in figuring out what’s going on:

What am I feeling?

When did this start?

What am I thinking?

When did this start?

Arming yourself with information about what the fight-or-flight response does can help you interpret and understand your reaction to competition. Physical reactions to perceived pressure or, more accurately, a perceived threat (remember, fight-or-flight is an evolved behavior) can vary:

  • Increased heart beat

  • Increase blood pressure

  • Muscles feel tingly or ‘on’

  • Breathing frequency increases

  • Breathing frequency might feel shallow or like you can’t take a ‘full’ breath

  • Muscles heavy

  • Sweating

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Other end of the spectrum: sleepy, exhausted, might begin yawning (sometimes this is from the need to sleep and process emotionally rich experiences and not from anxiety, so be aware!)

All of these are physical reactions to the need to move in some direction – toward or away from the shadow (remember the single-celled organism example). Identifying what you usually feel prior to competitions or intense physical activity can help you shift your interpretation of threat to an awareness of a physiological phenomenon that’s preparing you to move. You’re preparing yourself to ‘move toward the shadow and challenge it.’

Identifying the feelings natural to your being ‘ready to perform’ and what you’re feeling threatened by, then working on how you interpret those feelings and shifting your perspective around perceptions of threat, plus grounding yourself in the here and now, refocusing on what you’re ‘doing’ in that moment can all help. To learn these skills or how to tackle your anxiety, it’s best to reach out to a professional!

Get in touch with an AASP Professional: http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/certification/find-a-consultant/

Email me with questions: michael@staceyandassociates.com

Instagram: @S_and_A_Athletics

Twitter: @MikeatSandA


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