Anxiety can be a crippling condition which leaves many of us feeling tired and hopeless. There is a fine line between depression and anxiety, and both conditions can have a major impact on our day to day lives.

Effects of anxiety on sports performance

In this article, you’ll find out how anxiety affects sports performance and discover some early warning signs to stop it in its tracks, as well as being able to pick up some top tips to help combat the negative effects of anxiety for good.

Fear of failure

We all hate to fail, but the competitive edge in sport creates an added desire for victory.

A lack of motivation can prevent someone from taking part in sports altogether.

If someone is suffering from anxiety, they often find themselves fixating on the negatives without noticing the positives. This can lead to a vicious cycle, where fearing failure becomes a downward spiral. It can cause you to go so far as to give up or avoid taking part in sports, purely to minimise the chance of losing or underperforming. This, in turn, leads to a lack of motivation and can prevent someone from taking part in sports altogether.

Loss of appetite

Nutrition and a balanced diet are vitally important for all sports, and professional and amateur athletes alike need to maintain a regular and consistent eating pattern.

Many people see famous athletes as indestructible or super-human, but the truth is the world of professional sport can take a huge toll on the body and mind; professional sportspeople from all walks of life are just as susceptible to mental health disorders as anyone else. International rugby player Tom James has recently spoken out about his battle against anxiety and depression and the impact it has had on his professional life. In his interview, the Blues winger highlighted the severity of his condition, highlighting how things got so bad he was barely eating and lost around two and a half stone in weight.

A reduction in food intake can lead to severe weight loss or malnutrition, and can have a huge impact on sporting performance and physical health.

Struggling to get in the zone

With so many thoughts racing around at what feels like 100mph, it can be extremely difficult to find focus and get in the zone.

When we are anxious, our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes erratic and we lose focus. Whilst this would feel debilitating for anyone, it can be particularly damaging when in a sporting environment.

It is important to recognize the signs of panic attacks and take preventative measures in order to nip these occurrences in the bud.

Social anxiety

Lots of athletes and sportspeople know they are struggling, but can’t necessarily pinpoint exactly how or why. What they may not realise, however, is just how much of an impact it can have on social interaction.

When feeling anxious, it is common for people to struggle in social situations. This can have an enormous impact on team sports such as football or rugby, where there is a strong balance of work and play, as well as a need for camaraderie and interaction both on and off the pitch. Anxiety and depression are conditions that can lead to a profound sense of loneliness, and these feelings can be exaggerated in group environments.

Notice any changes in your social life early on, so that you can act before it has an impact on you and others around you.

How do you overcome anxiety in sports?

  • Combat negative thoughts by rewarding yourself after every sporting encounter. Force yourself to think about the positives. Consider a moment, even a second in time where you achieved something out on the pitch, the arena or the track. Give yourself a pat on the back and remember, there is always room for improvement and failure is just one part of getting better at what you do.
  • Consider keeping a diet calendar and stick to it. Take the time to plan meals ahead, and remind yourself no matter how bad you feel that it is important to eat and eat well. A careful and considered approach to nutrition is extremely important and can be one of the best roads to recovery, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
  • Prepare your body and mind before taking part in sporting activity. It is vitally important that you remain in control of your thoughts and actions before getting stuck in to the activity that lies ahead. Consider your breathing and remain calm. Practice Mindfulness and bring yourself back around to the present moment. The body and mind are connected, so have regular treatments such as sports and remedial massage in order to look after your physical wellbeing post-event.
  • Be honest and truthful with those around you. Mental health should not be seen as a stigma, and it is important that you share the challenges you are facing with others. If you are part of a team, consider opening up to your coach or a close friend. Explain the difficulties you are facing and don’t be afraid to ask for help, support and advice. You may just be amazed at how positive the outcome could be.
  • Consider utilising the services of a sports psychologist. Sports psychology can be hugely beneficial for athletes in a professional sporting context, and could be key in combatting the negative effects of anxiety.

If you are struggling with anxiety and feel that it is having a negative impact on your sporting performance and way of life, it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are plenty of resources out there to help combat the negative effects of anxiety and depression for good. Visit this information guide from NHS.uk for more information on how to access mental health resources, and start making positive changes today.