Sports Psychology
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Managing Stress and Anxiety 

There is a difference between stress and anxiety
     Stress exists when a perceived situation and the ability to handle the perceived situation are not equal.
Stress can be caused by any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. The causal source of anxiety is not always possible to identify. Some refer to a "gut wrenching sense" that something bad is going to occur. This uncomfortable feeling is generally associated with fear, unease, worry, apprehensive, or extreme tenseness.

     Both stress and anxiety are associated with a physiological reaction to real or imagined situations. Typically, one or more of the following physical symptoms may be observed, including:
  • A faster heart rate
  • Skipped heartbeats
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Loose stools
  • Frequent need to pee
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems swallowing
    The intensity of anxiety, before testing or participating in competitive sports activities, can be so serious and debilitating that the individual may become incapable of even attempting to perform.

    There is a point at which mental and emotional anxiety begins to transition into physical stress. When this occurs varies acccording to the individual. One or more of the following emotional/mental symptoms can be observed, including:
  • Having low self confidence or poor self image,
  • Making negative comments about yourself sets the stage for low expectations
  • Being more self critical than normal,
  • Consistently performing under your ability (particularly in pressure situations),
  • Having trouble sleeping the night before an event is very common,
  • Experiencing difficulty getting loose before a competition - tense; wound tight,
  • Feeling ill - an upset stomach before an event is a common reaction.
A Positive Reaction to stress can originate in some circumstances
      This involves the generation of adrenaline that is like kicking in an "after burner" in a jet plane to quickly gain thrust to take off. This natural hormone produced by our bodies allows us to achieve tasks that under normal conditions we could not conceive of accomplishing.

       Being energized by an audience of supportive fans can inspire athletes and entertainers to achieve positive performances. Emotion

      Unfortnately it is the negative aspects of stress (under perfofrming) that usually creates the most problems for individuals to handle and seak solutions to avoid the triggering stressor in the future.

Stress affects everyone to some degree in all aspects of everyone living

     What is important is to learn how to positively manage how to learn and perform activities at or near optimum levels of our natural potential.  Stress is not necessarily positive or negative, good or bad! It is our response to the stressor causes many individuals to attempt to deal with stress in ways that are counter-productive or even self defeating because the resulting reaction diminishes performance rather than enhancing it. 

      Successfully managing stress requires that the individual changes the way they respond to stress by making time for relaxation, and/or learning coping strategies that really work. This requires an objective analysis of the realities of the situation. The number of hours in a day can not be changed; however, it is possible to reallocate the available time by prioritizing tasks and reducing or eliminating tasks that are bot necesssary.

      Obviously everyone needs a good nights sleep, but some may be able to due with less while others may require more. This may be associated with eating food to close to the start of the normal sleep pattern. It may also have to do with the consumption of caffeine or other food and drinks that stimulate our body. It also may be the level of physical activities prior to attempting to sleep. This is frequently observed in young children and adults who work unusually schedules that are not conducive to an uninterrupted sleep cycle.

      Young puppies and children may play until they suddenly drop from exhaustion. As they grow older, they may exhibit short temper and crankiness when the become overly tired or stay put beyond their regular bedtime. Adults may find thier responsibilities do not allow them to finish school, job, or parenting responsibilities. Unfortnately, high school and college age individuals may undertake too much and discover to their dismay that it nnegative affects their performance.

Negative stress frequently is associated with an individual not prepared to do their best
       Managing stress is all about personal control of your:
  • Thoughts,
  • Emotions,
  • Schedule,
  • Environment,
  • Dealing with problems.
      Ultimately our personal goal should involve balancing the various expectations that you have life and that others have of you. This may involve parents, friends, romantic attachments, bosses, teachers, coaches, etc.  The challenge is to resolve conflicts with the other expectations and the resilience to resist the pressure to conform to the demands from others for your time.

      Managing these challenges head on may not be your personal style; however, putting off a confrontation only delays the inevitable need to make a decision that is best for you. Don't allow someone to guilt you into doing something that you don't really want to do! Don't procrastinate making life altering decisions!

It is possible to effectively reduce stress  levels by preparing for taking tests and enter competitions.  You may not be able to completely eliminate stress, but stress levels can be managed through relaxation exercises and other techniques.  Some guidelines to try include:
  • Try to stay on a regular daily schedule - don't attempt to cram just prior to testing or competing,
  • Eat a well balanced healthy diet,
  • Do not use nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine to stimulate or depress emotions/moods,
  • Insure that you have a regular sleep schedule, especially if traveling across time zones is involved.

     The true sources of stress aren’t always obvious to an individual who is suffering from stress. It’s all too easy to overlook the everyday stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are internal because they have slowly become part of or "normal" daily existance.  However, someone who does not interact with us on a regular basis frequently notice the changes in our behavior.

The inability to achieve our physical expectations expectations is a cause of stress and depression
     Stress and anxiety are part of everyone's life - non-athletes and athletes. Most athletes generally associate stress and anxiety with physical injuries. Everyone feels the pressure to succeed, pressure of failing, fear of injury, fear of reinjury, or anxiety about overcoming an injury. However, many individuals do not and will not recognize the symptoms.

     The major sources of stress reported in individuals and coaches in amateur and professional sports includes:

  • the fear of failure,
  • concerns about social evaluation by others (particularly the coach),
  • lack of readiness to perform,
  • a loss of internal control over one's environment.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
      The following coping strategies are frequently used to temporarily reduce stress, but the end result is long term physical, mental, and emotional damage:

  • Smoking, even in moderation
  • Drinking, even in moderation
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Spacing out in front of the TV or computer
  • Constant texting, twitting, spacebook
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and usual activities
  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Sleeping too long or being drowsy all day
  • Procrastinating
  • Avoid facing problems by being constantly busy
  • Lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence towards others

These band aid approaches never solve the problem, they only serve to mask the real source which must be dealt with to end the cycle of stress and behaviors to mask the cause of the behavior.

Avoiding unnecessary stress is the first place to start in stress managment
      It is not possible to completely acoid all stressful situations. It is necessary to confront those situations that need to be addressed. Begin by changing how you interact with people -
  • Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Refuse to accept added responsibilities after undertaking a task. Never allow yourself to taking on more than you can handle.
  • Avoid people who stress you out – There are individuals who consistently causes stress in other people's lives. Avoid interacting with them and if this is not possible, then limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
  • Take control of your environment – Turn the TV off and read a book or have a conversation with someone. If traffic makes you tense, start earlier or take a longer but less traveled route.
  • Avoid hot-button topics – Don't get trapped in discussions about religion or politics because they can quickly become out of control arguments. Change topics or excuse yourself from such topics.
  • Prioritize your to-do list – List your schedule, responsibilities, and daily, weekly, or monthly tasks. Distinguish between the “would like to” and the “must do” tasks. Only accept tasks that are truly a high priority, move the others to "if time permits" list or eliminate them entirely.
Change the stressor or make changes in yourself
       Sometimes it is much easier to see how you can adapt to stressful situations and thus be in charge by changing your expectations and attitude -
  • Reframe problems. View stressful situations from a perspective that is more positive. Pause, take a deep breath, and regroup.
  • The big picture. Change the perspective of a stressful situation and ask yourself is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Revise your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoiding stress. We frequently set ourselves up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards that you apply to yourself and others. Be okay with “good enough.”
  • Focus on the positive. A simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective. Set aside some quite time to reflect on your own positive qualities, talents, and the things you appreciate in your life.
Pre-emptive actions
       Anticipating how you would respond/handle situations is a common techniquic used to prepare our military forces for all possible contingencies. However, if you become preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios, then the worrying becomes obsessive and is another problem to deal with.

       Some individuals seem to be possessed with doubts and fears that paralyze the individual. Such an attitude is not helpful in self motivation or productivity. Any negative attitude saps your emotional energy as anxiety levels soar and interfere with even the simplest daily tasks. Chronic worrying is a habit that can be repurposed or retrained, but rarely completely eliminated. Consulting a professional therapist to help you stay cool, calm, and collected is highly recommended.

      The source or chronic worrying can be found in a person's negative and positive beliefs. This goes to the core values a person has acquired in the intractionals within their family, school and church associations. Sometimes an individual actual internalizes conflicting values that they are not aware of until being exposed to points of view when attending college, on the job, or joining the military which requires adopting to new rules of behavior and conduct.

Prevention requires efforts to identify the stressors to allow the development of an action plan

       Not all problems can be resolved by simply joining a self help group or reading books on the subject you feel is the problem. The most useful approach is to seek the services of a trained counselor who can get to the root source of the problem(s) that you are in a state of denial and refuse to acknowledging or that you unaware of its existence.
      To modify an individual's reaction to stress and anxiety requires changes in two main categories:
  •  thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of stressful situations,
  •  the physical bodily responses to stressful conditions
     To effectively use stress management techniques, the personality of the athlete, their lifestyle, and support system must to be factored into any preventive planning. The athlete must learn to share control of the rehabilitation process with the athletic trainer otherwise the stress and anxiety management strategies can increase an athletes stress and anxiety.

     Stress and anxiety management must include a deailed, step-by-step plan to:
  • decrease pain,
  • decrease repeative injuries,
  • increase the adherence to follow rehabilitation plan,
  • enhance physical healing,
  • assist in mental and emotion adjusting to being injured by improved coping skills to deal with the stress of the injury,
  • develop the mental readiness to return to full participation in training program.
     The athlete must buy into the explanation of the plan if they are to be fully involved in the rehabilitation plan.  If properly reassured it is possible to counteract psychological disturbance. Psychological strategies to achieve a positive outcome include:
  • visual rehearsal,
  • emotive rehearsal,
  • body rehearsal,
  • thought stoppage,
  • mental practice.
    The following methods to decrease stress and implement coping techniques have proven to be effective:
  • social support,
  • relaxation techniques,
  • imagery,
  • thought stoppage,
  • modeling,
  • behavior rehearsal,
  • coping with frustration,
  • establishing a positive environment.
     The importance of the role of the support systems has been demonstrated to play a vital role in recovery and rehabilitative process and to affect the adherence to rehabilitation. Some of the techniques include:
  • mental imagery,
  • relaxation modeling,
  • goal setting,
  • positive self talk,
  • pain management,
  • education,
  • stress management,
  • cognitive reconstruction.
     Athletes lacking a strong social support system or who are involved in high stress related to life events are more likely to sustain injury. All of the techniques mentioned above can be effective. However, each athlete needs to find the technique(s) that satisfies his/her needs and one which he/she feels comfortable consistently adhering to achieve the desired results.

Stress and Anxiety 
    Stress and anxiety definitions and measurements. ... 'An emotional state, similar to fear, associated with arousal and ... Examples are Martens Sports Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) and Speilbergers State Trait Anxiety Inventory

    Measuring an athletes levels of stress can be achieved in three ways:

Self-report questionnaires: Easy to complete although can be open to inaccurate responses. Examples are Martens Sports Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) and Speilbergers State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)

Physiological Measurements: Measuring physiological responses to a situation can indicate a stress response. Measurements such as heart rate, sweating, muscle tension and oxygen uptake can be used although this can involve expensive, bulky equipment

Observation: Viewing an athletes behavior before, during and after an event can provide much information about their stress response. Clues to watch out for include shaking, talking fast, frequent toilet visits, biting the nails, and an inability to stay still.


Stress and anxiety revision flash cards

Problems and Solutions

Learn More About:

Is Your Stress IQ Hurting Your Performance?     by Dr. Mick G. Mack

Jitter Bug: Overcoming the First Tee (golf)    by Patrick J. Cohn

Pass or Fail: Learning How to Make the Grade (golf)    by Patrick J. Cohn

Preventing "Choking" and Downward Performance Cycles     by Dr. Robert M. Nideffer

A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Anxiety in Athletes     by Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.

Q-School Pressure Takes Mental Toughness (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

Shooting Low Means Beating Fear (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

Stress, Anxiety and Energy     Follow the down arrow (at page top and bottom) for continued discussion.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective     by Miguel Humara, M.A.


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organization/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

The Sports Environment
PDF  Sports Personality
          Role of Sports Psychology
PDF  Heredity

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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