What is Anxiety?

~3 minute read

The stress of school, social life, and family life on top of the stress of being an athlete can be a lot to handle. While sports can sometimes be an outlet and teach you coping skills that help you deal with the challenges of everyday life, it can also add additional stress and pressure to your life. Time demands from practice and competition, injuries, coach and teammate dynamics, and playing time are all factors that can contribute to your stress level. 

It’s okay to feel worried from time to time, but from a mental health perspective, feeling overwhelmed and on edge most of the time can be a symptom of anxiety. Anxiety alerts your mind and body that there is danger or a threat, and it prepares you to react to it by putting your senses on high alert. You might notice this reaction through physical changes, like a faster heartbeat and breathing, sweaty palms, an uneasy stomach, and shaky hands or legs. These symptoms are helpful to signal to your body if there is a threat nearby, but chronic symptoms of anxiety can exhaust your mind and body.

Anxiety can morph as you age and it can also come and go. If you’re someone who has had anxiety from a young age, you might start to notice a shift in the things you’re feeling anxious about. It’s also completely normal to start experiencing anxiety in adolescence even if you’ve never felt like you had anxiety before. Younger children are more likely to be anxious about external things, like animals, the dark, monsters, or something bad happening to mom or dad, while teenagers are more likely to be worried about themselves. Teenagers might be stressed about how they’re doing in school and sports as well as how they’re perceived by others. 

Anxiety = emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

Symptoms might also include:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Sleep disturbances, especially falling asleep
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite when anxious
  • Feelings ranging from general uneasiness to complete immobilization
  • Fear that one is dying or going crazy
  • Pounding heart, sweating, shaking, impaired concentration
  • Feeling out of control

Types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety: Excessive worry about many things, ranging from school and sports, to the health of family members, to the future. You might fear that the worst possible thing will happen and experience physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, chest pain, tiredness, or tight muscles. Generalized anxiety makes everyday worries feel catastrophic and can make life feel overwhelming or out of control.
  • Panic attacks: Panic attacks can occur suddenly and for no apparent reason. During a panic attack, you experience intense physical symptoms such as pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, or tingling feelings. These sensations are the body’s response to fear.
  • Social anxiety: Intense anxiety caused by social situations or speaking in front of others. 
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Anxiety takes the form of obsessions (intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (actions that are meant to relieve the anxiety)
  • Phobias: An exaggerated, intense fear of specific situations or things that aren’t that dangerous – heights, dogs or cats, flying in an airplane. Phobias might cause you to avoid the things you fear, which can reinforce your worries.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Anxiety resulting from a traumatic or terrifying past experience. Some symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, or constant fear after the event.

Anxiety symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, and anxiety also often overlaps with other mental health challenges, such as depression or substance use. If you experience symptoms of anxiety, it can be confusing and strange when trying to pinpoint why you feel upset or on edge. Constant worries, physical sensations, and overwhelming feelings of doom or fear can affect your concentration, confidence, sleep, athletic performance, appetite, and outlook. The good news is that treatment can help you feel much better.

One of the most common treatments for anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, you learn how to reframe thoughts and redirect behaviors in situations that can cause anxiety. Your therapist helps you learn coping skills, such as relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, that help you deal with stress. Learning these techniques can help you teach your mind and body that you aren’t in danger, and that it’s okay to relax.

If you’re someone who worries that you’ll lose your competitive edge if you’re less anxious, try to remind yourself that managing your stress levels will allow you to tap into that competitive nature in a positive way. Rather than feeling exhausted and fearful, you’ll give yourself the space to feel energized and motivated. 


Mayo Clinic: Anxiety disorders

NIMH: Anxiety disorders

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