Anxiety in Athletes

26th March 2019
It's important to know the symptoms of anxiety, how it can affect your athletic performance and lifestyle, and how to fight it effectively.

Is it possible for a person to develop anxiety from practicing a sport? In this article, you’ll discover what happens between athletes and their mental capacity to deal with their fears and demands.

Athletes must manage the pressure, stress, and demands required by the sport they practice in addition to the adversities that are present in their lives. Controlling and maintaining stability and mental health is extremely important for your performance and well-being in general.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an anticipated involuntary reaction to a negative or dangerous situation or thought. The body generates certain symptoms in response to internal or external stimuli, which are usually unpleasant and full of tension.

Controlling our mental health is extremely important.

According to Aaron T. Beck, anxiety is a person’s perception from a wrong angle, based on false premises. That is to say, it’s a negative and worrisome perspective of the situations that arise.

This disease is quite complex. There’s no trigger that causes it, in fact, it’s a combination of different factors, such as:

  • Personality.
  • Lifestyle.
  • Genetic factors.
  • Patterns of stress confrontation.
  • Traumatic experiences.
  • Consumption of drugs or other stimulants.

Anxiety (not to be confused with an anxiety disorder) develops from these elements; with symptoms such as dizziness, tachycardia, nausea, tremors, and even irritability and difficulty to concentrate.

Anxiety in athletes

Sports are activities that involve the body and mind. As a matter of fact, they provide many health benefits for both. Additionally, most people who do sports are often successful in all other aspects of their lives.

Since the benefits of sports are always present, it may seem contradictory for athletes to develop a state of anxiety. However, it’s possible for it to happen due to the different situations that an athlete must face:

1. Pressure

Pressure is necessary at certain times in sports since it helps athletes increase their level of competitiveness and performance. On the other hand, an excess of pressure isn’t good and it comes from different sources:

  • Pressure from the coach.
  • Competitive pressure.
  • Pressure due to rivalry or disagreements with colleagues.

2. Stress

The routine, injuries or ailments, and the intense effort to comply with demands can cause athletes to be under high levels of stress. Especially when they have time limits to achieve their objectives.

3. Tiredness

Each person has a particular lifestyle, some lives revolve around sports and others not so much. Nonetheless, anyone can reach a point where tiredness alone can have a negative influence.

Tiredness can have a negative influence in our lives.

Athletes must manage the physical fatigue produced by subjecting their bodies to perform movements that can injure their muscles, joints, and ligaments. Besides that, they must control the mental effort employed during the training.

4. Falls or accidents

A fall, a bad execution of an exercise, a slip, or an accident during physical activity can trigger anxiety as a reaction to the inconvenient outcome. In other words, anxiety due to a specific event.

For example, if a gymnast performs a jump and for some reason falls, an anxious pattern could develop in relation to that specific jump in the future. Simply put, the athlete feels anxious before making that jump due to a traumatic experience.

Sports and anxiety

Although we usually don’t consider anxiety in athletes, it’s a problem that happens more often than we think and it shouldn’t be ignored. It’s necessary for people who do physical activities to not only take care of their bodies but also their minds.

Not all athletes develop anxiety, it depends on different factors for each individual. However, the following aspects must be taken into account:

  • Don’t ignore signs of anxiety, they may increase over time, which could worsen its consequences.
  • If you feel that there are elements in the training that cause anxiety, talk to your coach or an expert.
  • Find the balance between the activities you do. Take time to clear your mind.
  • Don’t be ashamed to go to a psychologist, it’s the best thing you can do; if only to check that everything is in order.

The mind is a deep sea, full of complexities and it may become momentarily turbulent, but in the end, we must calm ourselves. Anxiety in athletes is a delicate and complicated issue. It’s a reality in sports, although, it has a solution and it’s only a matter of giving it the attention and importance it needs.

  • CHEVALLON, S. (2000). El entrenamiento psicológico del deportista. Barcelona: editorial De Vecchi.
  • Estrada, P. R. (2007). Implicaciones psicológicas de las lesiones deportivas. Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes.
  • Englert, C., & Bertrams, A. (2012). Anxiety, Ego Depletion, and Sports Performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology34(5), 580–599. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.34.5.580