Anxiety is defined as a feeling of nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Whilst within a sporting setting it’s known as ‘choking’ and refers to a decrease in athletic performance due to too much perceived stress. Everyone experiences anxiety, but why do some, such as elite athletes and top public speakers, cope with anxiety better than others? Simple, they familiarize themselves with this state of mind.
Of all the topics I studied during my sports psychology degree, manipulating anxiety to work for you rather than against you held the most value and has significantly impacted all aspects of my life helping me reap better results and all the rewards that come with it. Now I’ll share the methods I’ve learned to actually leverage anxiety as an advantageous emotion for success with you in Anxiety: 3 Key Ways to Deal with it Positively!
You may already be aware of theories such as the inverted-U hypothesis that depict the direct relationship between anxiety and performance. It can be viewed as an inverted-U shape continuum, with low levels of anxiety being associated with decreased levels of performance, whilst increased anxiety can ratchet performance up to an optimum level, now let’s grab those keys…
1. Anxiety Helps Us to Prepare
Anxiety is the mind’s natural cue to prepare for a significant event or moment in our lives (of intrinsically important personal value to us) to ensure we achieve the best possible outcome.
Think about public speaking. Anxiety will motivate you to prepare and learn your speech, create personal cues to keep you on topic, and practice tactics to reduce feelings of nervousness during the event itself.
On the flip side, when anxiety levels are low or non-existent, we can become complacent by just ‘showing up’ on the day leading to sub-optimum performance levels and disappointing results.
“Comfort is a Stance of Avoidance rather than a Pursuit of Excellence” ―
This quote depicts the role of anxiety perfectly. It’s only by maneuvering through uncomfortable moments that we develop and progress. Using physiology as an example, a CrossFit Games athlete doesn’t get to the elite level without enduring a certain level of suffering and sacrifice over a measurable period of time.
4-times CrossFit Games winner, Mat Fraser, is famously quoted saying “If it’s something I suck at, I’m going to do it”, which has been highlighted by his specific improvements from one Games to the next. Our minds are no different and they need to overcome challenges to develop, and become stronger. This is known as Mental Toughness Training.
Whatever the challenge-conjuring anxiety is, we need to face it head on, deploying psychological tools that will help us to prepare and produce the best outcomes. Only then will we become more familiar and comfortable with future situations, whilst our skills, personal development, and experience will be enhanced. Staying comfortable will not allow you to progress as the multidimensional being you truly are.
2. Positive or Negative: it’s a State of Mind
It’s all down to the individual and how they interpret it. A lack of challenge can halt progress and lead to boredom, which can be detrimental to your mental health if prolonged. Embracing this state in a measured, step-by-step, deliberate and consciously-planned way, is the only way to advance yourself, enhance your skill-set, and develop your mental toughness to evolve to a higher level and improved version of yourself.
Experiencing anxiety enables us to become more comfortable with it by utilizing and practicing a variety of strategies. Psychological tools such as self-talk, visualization, and goal-setting are all excellent methods to minimize the debilitating effects of anxiety and manipulate your mental state into a winning mentality – thus an asset, rather than a liability.
3. Using Anxiety to Achieve Your Best
Anxiety is experienced by almost everyone, in a variety of situations, with different intensities. Next time you feel anxious, don’t avoid it. Instead, think about how you can reduce it by enlarging your perception or your paradigm of yourself to you become confident to deal with the task ahead. Whether it’s preparing a sales call or getting ready for a brutal workout, use the methods discussed to practice and increase your confidence before the event itself. Expect to succeed!