Recognizing performance anxiety in student-athletes

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Olympics has spurred a conversation about mental health and athletes.

In a blog post, Parkview Health psychologist Dr. Kristen Varian said while high school sports are not on the same level as the Olympics, it still brings on performance anxiety.

Varian said some level of performance anxiety is normal. However, it can appear as exhaustion, panic, burnout, giving up, or impaired performance.

“Knowing this information, we want to prevent the stress and anxiety from getting too high. One thing you can do is to acknowledge the stress and pressure and believe student-athletes when they say the pressure to perform is too much. Some athletes may come out and tell you, while others may complain of weakness, racing heart rate, lots of “butterflies” in their stomach or a stomachache, muscle tension, or they may appear sweaty and clammy prior to performance. They may also become very frustrated with their athletic performance or engage in a lot of negative self-talk such as “I can’t do it,” “I’m going to fail,” and other self-demeaning comments,” said Varian in the post.

She explains the first step to address performance anxiety is prevention and education.

“Breathing exercises can also be helpful, such as diaphragmatic or belly-breathing and paced breathing. Progressive muscle relaxation can help relieve muscle tension associated with anxiety. Finally, mental imagery exercises can help the athlete imagine performing well prior to the performance to decrease anxiety,” said Varian.

If you have continued concerns about your athlete, reach out to your primary care provider or a mental health professional.

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