The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics is scheduled tomorrow, Friday, February 9. Thousands of athletes from nearly 100 nations will parade into the Seoul, South Korea venue to finally show the world what they can do… for what they’ve spent countless hours preparing.
That pressure is intense.
In a Sports Illustrated article, Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis (women’s wrestling) describes the anxiety like this:
“I can’t stop crying. I’m making myself sick. For the first time in my life, I explained to Terry [my Coach] what my anxiety was like. What it felt like to be afraid of irrational things. I was always afraid to tell him, because I was afraid he wouldn’t think I was mentally capable of a gold medal. And at the Olympics, I didn’t want to look weak.
“He said that I was strong to reach out and talk to him. He also said when we are hyper-sensitive to everything, it’s our bodies way of preparing for battle.”
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, is no stranger to anxiety. He appeared in a documentary called “Angst” to share his story of suffering from severe anxiety. “Once I opened up about that and things that I had kept inside of me for so many years, I then found that life was a lot easier. I got to the point where I understood that it’s OK to not be OK.”
For others, life has not gotten easier. Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold announced in the fall of 2017 that she was taking time off to “seek professional help.” She further elaborated, saying “it breaks my heart to withdraw from the 2018 U.S. Championships. I am still undergoing treatment for depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. It pains me not to compete in this Olympic season, but I know it’s for the best.”
And it’s not just Olympic athletes who suffer from performance anxiety. In fact, if you are gearing up for a marathon, your wedding, or a huge project at work – you may experience performance anxiety.
What is Performance Anxiety?
Most people experience some level of nervousness before a significant life event. After all, it’s often the culmination of weeks, months or years of hard work and preparation.
“Some degree of anxiety with competition is almost universal. Frequently, sports-related anxiety can negatively affect an athlete’s psychology and performance,” wrote Jay Winner, M.D. in Psychology Today. “It can range from a little jitters to a full-fledged panic attack.”
These panic attacks can have physical symptoms: trouble breathing, shaking, flushed face, sweating, tingling extremities, and a racing heart. Or a person who is suffering from performance anxiety may look calm on the outside, but inside their mind is racing with worry and “what ifs.”
How athletes and anyone gearing up for an important event manages this stress and performance anxiety can be the difference between success and failure.
Tips for Managing Performance Anxiety
So, how do you keep the nerves in check to manage performance anxiety? Take a lesson from one of golf’s greatest players ever, Jack Nicklaus, whose focus was legendary. According to Psychology Today: “Before he swung the club, Nicklaus visualized a positive result. Then he offered himself positive suggestions and tuned out negative thoughts. Finally, he went on automatic pilot and made a pass at the golf ball with full trust in his muscle memory.”
Additionally, engaging in some exercises from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America will help you overcome your performance anxiety:
– Visualize positive outcome
– Realize that everyone gets the “jitters”
– Take deep breaths
– Get a good night’s rest before the event
If these tips don’t help ease your performance anxiety, you may need to talk with a counselor or therapist trained in treating anxiety issues. Like the Olympics, life’s big events often come with one shot. Make your shot the best it can be!