Athletes and Anxiety – Kathy Herzog

by | Jul 9, 2019 | Podcast

Kathy Herzog Psy.D.; Licensed Psychologist in Massachusetts who discusses anxiety and athletes with us on this episode.
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  • anxiety and athletes—how it can manifest

  • how we can recognize it early

  • how real life can impact our workout/training lives,

  • actionable steps to take when we’re feeling out of control (cognitive behavior therapy). How can we best tell a therapist what we need if we seek more help?

  • when sport / training becomes more of an escape/addiction.

A few extra notes from Katherine E. Herzog, Psy.D.; Licensed Psychologist:

1) Getting Rid of Anxiety
“One of the most common, but mis-guided things I hear from people suffering from anxiety is that they want to get rid of it. It’s an understandable reaction to something that is uncomfortable, and sometimes debilitating. However, I always counsel people that rather than trying to rid oneself of anxiety (which is pretty impossible anyway), one’s time is more fruitfully spent on accepting it (here’s that acceptance thing again). So, telling one’s self when you feel butterflies in your stomach, or other bodily sensations that herald anxiety, “this is exactly how I should feel,” or “this is going exactly the way it should.” Just as one expects to feel out of breath or have complaining legs during a demanding effort, one should meet anxiety as part of the normal course of our experiences in both training and at races or competitions.”
2) Regarding stress and anxiety-  (see Peter’s 80% is a passing Grade for more)
As we discussed, there is a lot of overlap in regards to how these feel. However, I will reiterate that stressors are usually coming to us from the outside. Just as we need to stress the body (carefully and strategically) in order to make gains in regards to fitness, successfully managing emotional stressors can cause us to be more resilient and mentally tough out on the road or the field. Over the past 5 years of doing my own training, I have come to value trying to be cognitively flexible in the face of stressors– trying to allow one’s self to take different perspectives on whatever one is bothered by. For example, I am a bit of a rigid perfectionist when it comes to carrying out each workout just as it was written, and I tend to plan ahead. So, I often will plan a particular running or riding workout for a route I have in mind days in advance…but sometimes completing a workout this way is not possible…the road is closed, my schedule had unexpected changes in it, etc. I find this sort of thing extremely stressful, and it can threaten to wreck my motivation to get any exercise at all– so I have been learning to be more flexible about this sort of thing– most of the time I get to do things as planned, but if I don’t, the world has not ended. Managing stress is often about teaching one’s self to be flexible and to be able to take radically different perspectives if needed.
3) Are you willing to Vs. Do you want to
Something we did not get to was the concept of willingness and how important this is when considering anxiety. As athletes, I think we can all agree there are lots of things we don’t necessarily want to do (I find lifting weights really dull, for instance, but know it is an important part of my training plan). A key question to ask one’s self might be “you don’t want to, but are you willing to?” Learning the difference between the desire and want to do something (it’s fun, I like it, it makes me feel good) and the willingness to do something is important in regards to managing avoidant behaviors, which are a common result of experiencing anxiety. Also, don’t confuse willingness with trying. Willingness is jumping (as high and hard as you can) with both feet and not knowing exactly where that will take you (a bit of a risk); whereas trying is much more tentative, and less scary. I will again use my own experience as an example: I find testing to be something I rather dread, but know it is important in terms of helping my coach determine my fitness and training needs. So, do I want to do testing on the bike (no), but am I willing to do it (absolutely yes). It’s good to consciously differentiate these things so that when we are confronted with parts of our lives in sport that we would rather avoid, we can manage those feelings without avoidance and with more honesty with ourselves.

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