Can anxiety be beneficial?

Anxiety among athlete can be experiences at different levels, for some of them, anxiety can be a tool that helps while competing, but for others it can leave negative impact. Anxiety is divided in three categories: somatic, cognitive, and behavioural.

Somatic anxiety is characterized by physical changes in the body such as excessive sweating, increased heart beating and breathing. These effects are consequences of adrenalin and cortisol secretion. Somatic anxiety helps athletes to get ready and handle different situations in the match.

Cognitive anxiety is oriented toward the psychological side. It is about thoughts that are often connected to fear of failure and negative beliefs about oneself or potential results. If these thoughts are too negative, an athlete becomes more anxious and is afraid of losing more. At this point, anxiety is not beneficial anymore.

The third category is behavioural anxiety that points out tense facial expressions, physical discomfort, or abstractedness.

Some athletes search for these feelings, others try to avoid them because they think that being anxious will decrease their performance. However, these effects are totally natural and can actually  help athletes to prepare physically and mentally. When anxiety is too high, the athlete´s performance decreases, the psychological state is not in balance which could lead to a bad play or loss. On the other side, if anxiety has too low levels, an athlete can underestimate his preparation. The anxiety should stay within specific limits. Since every individual is different, each limit needs to be set up individually.

So the questions is, can anxiety be beneficial?

The anxiety is not only beneficial but also necessary to show the best performance. If an athlete wants to demonstrate the best ability, he/she needs to prepare his body with adrenaline secretion in order to activate the body. So, as I mentioned earlier, if anxiety is controlled and stays within specific limits, it is very beneficial.

How to handle excessive anxiety?

There are many techniques which could decrease anxiety, as for example imagery. This helps an athlete to prepare either the day before the match, the day of the match, or during the match. Top athletes use imagery all the time. The imagery prepares athletes mentally for their upcoming performance mentally. Imagery decreases athletic anxiety levels and increase their self-confidence. However, for imagery to be effective, it has to be executed correctly and often.

The next technique is called the pre-performance routine. Majority of professional athletes have their own routines that can be visible or executed privately. One of the example would be Rafael Nadal, former world´s number one tennis player, who performs his visible routines all the time during the match (adjusting his hair, shorts, overstepping the lines on the court, placing water in the specific position, or having the same ball bouncing style before every serve). All these are his rituals; however, rituals need to stay within borders not to become superstitious. The rituals should be set up in the specific way, they should be able to be performed all the time and should be short and precise. These ritual can calm athletes down, decrease internal discomfort, activete an athlete and increase concentration.

There are many other techniques; for example, relaxation techniques or positive self-talk. If you have excessive anxiety which disturbs your play, please do not hesitate to contact me, I will build a plan with different techniques for you which would help you to handle such situations.