Mental Health for Athletes: 6 Ways to Deal with Anxiety

Feelings of anxiety can be crippling. Almost everyone experiences these feelings in small doses, but there are some that experience extremely high levels, far worse than what can be considered ‘nerves’.

My experience with anxiety has run the entire spectrum. From dealing with the feelings that comes with having to perform in a race, a test or a presentation to being faced with crippling panic attacks, which at times can appear for no apparent reason.

So how does one deal with anxiety?

In this article I will present ways to deal with anxiety when it appears in a future articles I will explore ways to identify what is creating that anxiety and ways you can help prevent such situations from arising.

1. Breathe

Your breath can be the key to creating success in many situations. Anxiety is triggered by the fight or flight response in the nervous system which in turn causes an increase in heart rate, muscular tension, and it is often accompanied by fear.

Focusing on breath can help decrease heart rate, relax tight muscles, and allow you to focus on something other than your feelings of anxiety.

As a yoga teacher I incorporate breath work in every class .

For anxiety I suggest using and practicing a three part breath. The three parts of the breath are the stomach, the lower part of the ribs, and the chest. In performing this breath you can maximize the volume of air taken into each one of those areas one at a time.

Ideally as you practice this more and more your breath will feel like it is moving in a rhythmic wave like motion.

The exhale follows the same pattern but in reverse and should match the length of the inhalation.

2. Build a Support Network

Asking for help is not easy, but is most often necessary. It took me years to be able to ask someone to help me when overwhelmed with different challenges, especially anxiety.

Friends and family members are often willing to be a foundation for you when experiencing high levels of anxiety.

When I have experienced panic attacks reaching out and talking to a friend or family member has helped me work through it. It is important to have someone there for you. They may just listen or know how to coach you through things, but whatever their role it is important to have support.

3. Take a Step Back

If you can allow yourself to step out of the situation it can help a lot. Try looking at your experiences as if one of your best friends was experiencing the same thing.

How would you help? What would you say to them? What perspective would you have?

This is not easy when in the midst of experiencing severe anxiety, but taking a step back can help you examine the situation in a more productive manner.

4. Use Self Talk Strategies

Anxiety can create incredibly negative loops of self talk. This is where you can begin to use different strategies to combat that way of thinking.

Most often when suffering through a bout of anxiety it is accompanied by thought distortions such as catastrophizing. This is simply when things get blown out of proportion and happen most often when what if questions are asked.

Using different self talk strategies can help eliminate these unproductive thought patterns.

5. Watch What You Eat

Food can have a positive or negative effect on your anxiety levels. Stimulants such as sugar and caffeine alone can create a certain level of anxiety nevermind heightening the level anxiety if it is already present.

There are many foods that can help lower anxiety as well. The following is a link to a great article by Sarah Mortimer outlining some of those foods.

6. Have an Action Plan

If you suffer from anxiety it is extremely helpful to have your own personal action plan. I have described a few strategies that I employ to help me when I begin to become anxious, but these are only suggestions.

What strategies work for you?

Try some out when you are not feeling anxious. Ask yourself how does your mind and body react when you employ these strategies? Which ones helped? Which ones didn’t?

Build a plan and practice it when you are not experiencing anxiety. If you build and practice healthy habits it will enable you to deal with your anxiety in a much more positive and effective way.


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One strategy that has helped by 12 yr old who struggles with anxiety and panic attacks is to Take 5 -” Look around you.
– Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
This is called grounding. It can help when you feel like you have lost all control of your surroundings.” The act of focusing on something besides the feeling of panic or anxiety helps.


Thank you so much for this. I’ve been working through anxiety and this is veryhhelpful

About Jeff Grace

Jeff Grace

Jeff is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher who holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute - Calgary). He has a background of over 20 years in the coaching profession, where he has used a unique and proven teaching methodology to help many achieve their …

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