Battling Performance Anxiety

Whether it’s about performing, relationships, academics, or for countless other reasons, many of us experience anxiety in some form or another from time to time. Feeling anxiety could be helpful in certain situations. For example, feeling anxious about a test may lead you to study. Feeling nervous about a big game might make you train and prepare more. After all, the key to confidence is preparation. Other times, anxiety could be crippling, with several mental and physical ramifications. Let’s talk about what’s happening when someone experiences anxiety, how it hinders performance, and what we can do about it.

As outlined in My Mental Playbook, whether it’s academics, athletics, social situations, personal issues, etc., anxiety is likely to occur under these circumstances:

1) When the outcome is perceived to be important. (Ex: Big games, conversations with certain people, job interviews)

2) When the situation is new. (Ex: Taking on a new role, playing an away game)

3) When there is unpredictability. (Ex: You don’t know what’s going to happen. Remember, the key to confidence is preparation. So if you can’t prepare, you won’t be confident.)

4) When you feel like you have no control over the outcome. (Ex: When you’ve done all you can do, and now you’re waiting for the result. Something is out of your hands.)

5) When you are dealing with other life stressors at the same time. (Ex: Studying for a test becomes more stressful when you’re also having issues with your significant other.)

Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure

  • Difficulty maintaining focus

  • Increased muscle tension and reduced flexibility

  • Inability to stay in the present moment

Does this seem like someone ready to perform at a high level?

As a Performance Coach, I work with athletes on battling performance anxiety using breathing and mindfulness techniques. The book illustrates different types of breathing you can practice to help calm your nervous system down, control your heart rate and blood pressure, and to bring your awareness to the present moment. We also discuss compartmentalizing — the ability to focus and put all of your attention on one thing at a time, and not letting other areas of your life bleed into performance. So if you’re at practice, your full attention is at practice. If you’re in the classroom, all of your effort is on your academics, etc.