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The Mental Health Athlete: Anxiety

Anxiety can be a crippling feeling, keeping people from doing things they love. At its worst, anxiety prevents people from doing things necessary to life. Your brain can hijack you in the middle of the night, before bed, or a specific situation can raise your heart rate and trigger desires of wanting to run thousands of miles away. My anxiety over my lifetime has been increased by some common factors I see often counseling people.

Things that can make anxiety worse:

  • Sitting Around: An old roommate and dear friend noticed when I don’t workout, I would often be emotionally heightened. One of the first things he would ask me is, “Have you worked out today?” Often, I would say, “no.” After workouts I would feel better… predictably. It me some time to make this a part of my “medication” I take every day.

  • Too Much Coffee: I never drank Coffee before I moved to the Northwest. Something about the winters make it almost necessary here. I noticed as I became more accustom to it, that my anxiety levels would be higher throughout the day if I drank too much coffee.

  • Poor Boundaries: Situations where a person has hurt me or I know in my gut this person is going to do things that are not okay and I struggle with putting my foot down. I would be: on guard around this person, ruminate on the interactions, beat myself up for not doing what I know to be right, blowing up on them, fearing talking to them, and/or avoiding interactions with them. All signs of anxiety

  • Avoidance: Probably one of the two worst things you can do with anxiety. Avoiding the source of your anxiety continues to give that fear all the power and is actually the opposite of what Counselors teach their clients (Systematic Desensitization). Avoidance keeps the power with the fear and/or the thing you’re anxious about. It becomes the “boogie man.”

  • Isolation: This is the second of what I consider the “worst” for anxiety. There is a reason solitary confinement is an extreme punishment and torture method. Our brains were made to be in relationship with other people and we do not do well when we are locked in our own heads. These have been some of my darkest times. Alone, at night, by myself, in a dark room, before bed.

Things that help anxiety:

  • Exercise: This gives the mind and body more resources to perform basic functions, improves mood, and stimulates brain activity that is not active while sitting on the couch.

  • Avoid Caffeine and stimulants: This was hard for me at first. I had grown accustom to coffee as an enjoyable ritual in the morning and a treat mid-morning. Switching to decaf was huge in reducing my overall baseline of anxiety throughout the day. The Swiss Water decaffeination process allows for all the flavor of coffee with almost no caffeine.

  • Learn How to Keep Your Boundaries When People Actively Test Them: Often people go to counseling to learn this because coaching is very important with this skill. When you know you can protect yourself you walk a little taller and once troubling people or situations lose their emotional reactivity in you. The stress of the person/situation may not leave but the courage and strength in you does not.

  • Face Your Fears: Define what it is that makes you anxious. Get as specific as you can from before the anxiety to comes on until after it goes away. Once you have the “map” of your anxiety, pick a spot that you can tolerate and it won’t ruin your day. Develop some skills or a plan on how to deal with that spot on the map. Actively go to that point of your anxiety over and over until it becomes boring. Repeat this process until you can go through the whole “map” and feel relatively calm. Note: this can take a long time for some people but it is very effective. Consider consulting a Counselor.

  • Be Around Family and Friends: This suggestion has two parts. The first is, you need people in your life you can have fun with, be yourself, and feel like you don’t have to censor. The second is: you need people in your life that will loving tell you when your brain is against your best interest. Ideally, you can get these two things from the same person. If you need to have one person for the freedom and one for the advice, that is totally okay.


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