Interrupting Anticipation Anxiety
We’ve all been there.
“Athlete’s set. Going in 10…”
Our heart rate spikes, stomach turns, and all of a sudden whether it’s approaching the barbell of what will hopefully be a new personal best or strapping into
the rower for a gear 3 sprint you know will hurt, you have begun to psych yourself out. You become your biggest obstacle in that moment.
“3, 2, 1, GO.”
Anticipation anxiety can show itself in all aspects of life. It occurs when we begin thinking, perhaps over-thinking, about what might happen in the future. It increases our stress levels and ultimately affects the way we show up for that moment in real time. It is this power that our brain has over our actions, and in CrossFit, our immediate performances, that we must respect and practice taking control of. While this skill takes time to build on, there are a variety of strategies you can utilize now to begin interrupting that anticipation anxiety.
Create a “3, 2, 1 - GO” Line:
This method of interrupting anticipation anxiety, or altogether preventing it, is one of the most commonly spotted strategies in the gym for a reason. Ever notice an athlete stand several feet away from their bar until it is time to lift? If so, you are likely witnessing that individual actively working to interrupt anticipation anxiety. By creating an imaginary line separating their task from their thinking, they then eliminate any negative thoughts threatening to enter their mind during the set up.
To practice this yourself, create that imaginary line. When behind the line, allow yourself to review any technical cues you have been given and visualize yourself successfully completing the lift. When ready, countdown to yourself 3-2-1, cross the imaginary line, place your hands and feet under and on the bar as needed, create tension, and go. If you find yourself in your set-up position for more than a few seconds, reset by going back behind your line, and restart the process.
Close your eyes, calm your mind, and with detail, visualize exactly what you want to happen. In fact, visualize yourself successfully completing your task in a first person perspective. If you are new to this practice, you might not realize how powerful this type of mental training is, especially when done repetitively over time. In its simplest terms, visualization is a method of training one’s mind to focus on what it is they want to achieve and thus, leads to a decrease in the likelihood of distractions such as anxiety. As a result of that increase in focus and decrease in distractions, the visualizer is more likely to create opportunities allowing the goal to happen. The science behind this practice though, runs deeper. When an individual practices visualizing an event, whether positive or negative, they are creating neural patterns the same way as if they had already done the task. Visualization stimulates the exact same region of the brain that would be stimulated if the task was actually happening in real-time. Train your mind in pursuit of your goals and your brain is more likely to act in accordance with those.
It may be easy to brush positive self-talk off as some cheesy practice, but the power of this mental training has been studied, in athletics especially, for over 100 years. In fact, the science behind its effectiveness goes so deep as to study the differences between talking to oneself in first person, such as using “I” or “me,” versus second or third person. When an individual speaks to themselves before a meaningful event with the words they need to hear, the individual is more likely to push aside the nerves and focus on the task at hand. The inner voice becomes their biggest coach. The next time you are readying yourself to perform, start by telling yourself in second or third person exactly what it is you need to do to be successful and confident.
Perceive the Nerves Intentionally
Often, when an individual experiences butterflies in their stomach, they begin to panic or allow these nervous feelings to cause more stress than necessary. Yet, we likely know by now that those nerves are a clear sign that we care about what is in front of us, so how can we interrupt the anticipation anxiety in this instance? If we respect the power our brains have over how we show up to a situation, we can also begin to perceive these nerves in a different light. The next time you feel those butterflies in your stomach, tell yourself that these butterflies are your body’s way of letting you know you are about to go out and conquer the task ahead of you. The more often you practice this intentionality, the less those nerves can negatively affect your future performances.
Have you tried any of the methods above to interrupt your anticipation anxiety? Have any additional strategies to share? Let us know what you have found to be most effective in your mental training.
By: Jasmine Joy