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How to overcome sports performance anxiety

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Suffering with anxiety is never a pleasant experience.

The charity describe anxiety as feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax. You may feel a sense of dread or of fearing the worst, or you may feel like the world is speeding up or slowing down and everyone is looking at you judging you for the way that you feel.1 Sports performance anxiety, also commonly known as stage fright, is when you feel these things in a sports-like setting. It’s not uncommon but if you’re unable to get on top of these feelings, they can stop you from exercising and doing what you love, may affect your career or worse still, can cause serious self-esteem issues that result in your confidence plummeting.

Learning to control your emotions

Totally overcoming anxiety and achieving a healthy mental state can be difficult, but there are things you can do to reduce your symptoms. First though, you should acknowledge how you’re feeling, which comes from recognizing your symptoms and attributing them to what they are – anxiety.

Symptoms of sport performance anxiety may include:

• Racing heart or rapid breathing
• Dry tight sensation in your mouth and throat
• Shaking hands, knees or lips
• Quivering voice
• Cold or clammy hands
• An unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach
• Nausea or physical sickness
• Dizziness or vision changes

Performing in front of or with people can bring your fears and vulnerabilities to the surface. It’s important to remember that nobody is perfect. You’re not expected to be perfect and it’s alright to make mistakes. Overcoming performance anxiety is largely about confronting your insecurities and accepting who you are. But it’s also about learning how to control negative thoughts and redirect them into more positive thoughts.

How to boost confidence through tackling performance anxiety

For some people confidence and a healthy mental state may seem to come naturally. This may well be the case, or they may just be better at giving off this persona. Thankfully, for other people confidence can be learned.

One of the best ways to overcome sports performance anxiety is to be thoroughly prepared. Practice not just your sport, but all the intricacies around it. What you wear while you’re performing? What are the timings of any events and how will you get there? What’s your fueling strategy for any workouts or races?

Be kind to your digestive system by limiting caffeine and sugar during the day of your workout or performance but be sure not to starve yourself. Make sure that you have enough energy by consuming complex carbohydrates such as whole grain pasta or rice a few hours before you are due to perform.

Visualize the audience in a positive way

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that those you are working out with or spectators are there to judge you. The truth of the matter is though, that they are much more likely to want to see you succeed. Try focusing on the positives when you think about your audience or workout buddies. Don’t focus on what could go wrong but visualize your success.

Psychological health and mental tricks to help with sports performance anxiety

It might take some getting used to but try connecting with your audience. Smile at them and make eye contact. Focus on the friendliest face you can find and pretend you’re performing just for them. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to laugh. Studies have shown that laughing – even if you don’t find anything funny – can help you relax.2 There’s also a strong link between looking good and feeling good and how you perform.3 If you look and feel good, you’re more likely to perform better, so take pride in your appearance and if you have a pair of lucky socks there’s certainly no harm in wearing them!

While performance anxiety can be very unpleasant it’s important to remember that the sensation is usually only fleeting. Learning to confront your fears and then managing to control them can be empowering for even the most naturally unconfident of people. If you do find yourself consumed with sports performance anxiety however, it could be beneficial to consider speaking to someone such as a cognitive behavioral therapist, who can help you tap into further ways to overcome your performance anxiety and support and guide you with your psychological health.

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