Today’s Topic: Overcoming Anxiety and Finding Confidence
Hi, everybody. Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I am Coach Rebecca Smith, a high performance coach specializing in helping athletes aged 8 to 18 increase performance by maximizing enjoyment, confidence, self-trust. I’m also the founder of the Perform Happy Community which is currently accepting new members. This is good news, because I am expecting baby number two in July. The online community which is a way that I coach people one-on-one through courses and through the forums, it’s going to be the only way that you get me personally after June. Hopefully I can be able to carry on the good work I’m doing while managing a tiny little person who’s going to need a lot of me.
The good news also is that we’ve got three other fabulous coaches on the Complete Performance Coaching squad. They are coaches, they are judges, they are elite athletes, division one collegiate athletes, amazing, amazing humans, and also fabulous sports psychology experts. So if you still need one-on-one attention after I go and head into the baby vortex, it will still be available to you. So our job as a team is to help you, whether you’re a coach, a parent, or a child, or an adult athlete, maximize performance and enjoyment.
I received a question from one of the members of the community today asking for some case studies. She has a daughter who struggles from generalized anxiety disorder. You guys probably know I am not a clinical psychologist. I have chosen to focus on the performance arena of psychology. I have a Master’s Degree in sports psychology, but I’m not a licensed clinical psychologist. As far as like anxiety disorders go, it is not my specialty. But what my specialty is, is helping athletes overcome sport anxiety and overcome fear which actually translates to a lot of life skills.
You guys have heard me give a couple of examples of anxiety. I’ve had driving anxiety where I’ve said “Oh yeah, I have tools for this!” Driving on a cliff with a 100 drop-off where I just tense up and I’m like “Oh my gosh, my family’s in the car. This is terrifying!” Then I’m like “Whoa, whoa, whoa, take a breath. Do what’s in my control. Slow down the car. Hold on tight. Focus in on the solution. Don’t look off the cliff. Look at the road.” I know how to help myself through those sorts of situations now. The dentist: deep breaths, be present, look at the ceiling, get myself grounded in reality.
I’ve learned just through the process of working with so many kids on the same thing, I’ve learned personally how to get through those moments in life that used to be just too much. I probably fall into that category too, or fell into that category as a young person, or being anxious. I was always super nervous to compete, really nervous to the point of blanking out on tests. Luckily I had a good amount of self-belief in my intelligence. My mom was like “You’re the smartest thing ever, you’re so smart, you’re so smart!” So I had kind of like a good foundation of that, but otherwise I was super anxious.
The tools that I’ve been able to teach these kids are for life. Yes, I talk through the lens of sport, but these are really for life and honestly that’s my main goal: happy, healthy, successful kids. Not just successful athletes. Kids who then turn into happy, healthy, successful adults who can handle scary situations or awful situations with grace and with dignity and able to walk through it with their head held high and just get through some really tough stuff.
Case Studies on General Anxiety
What I’m going to do is give you guys three different case studies of kids that I’ve worked with who have had kind of general anxiety stuff going on, and I’m going to change some details about them. Every session I have one-on-one with an athlete is confidential, 100% confidential. I’m going to change details so that it’s not really going to be totally anybody’s story, but it’ll give you a good idea.
The gymnast I’ll tell you about is a conglomerate of four different kids, but this’ll give you an example of kind of some issues that each kid struggled with. I have a gymnast, I have a figure skater, and I have a swimmer because those are my personal three top sports I work with. Although I’ve worked with tons and tons of sports. But those are the top three. It’s probably the top three athletes listening.
I’ll tell you what their background was, what we did together to help them through it, and then what the outcome was so that for those of you who are feeling hopeless like “Oh my gosh, my kid is so nervous all the time, like school, with friends, social. Is it ever going to get easier for them?” Or “Is there hope for my kid to get through this sport anxiety because they are just a generally anxious kid?” So I want to give you guys some hope because I know in my life any time that I feel hopeless, I need success stories. I just need to be like “Tell me it’s going to be okay. Don’t just tell me it’s going to be okay. Tell me you went through it and this is what it was like and it felt hopeless and then you got through it.”
That’s really one of the main reasons why the Perform Happy Community has become as powerful as it has. I log in to my Facebook group, and everybody’s there supporting each other. One mom is like “Yes, we’ve been through it, we got through it, and it’s awesome” and one mom is like “Oh my gosh, I’m so mad. I don’t think this is going to work.” They all just work together to reinforce what’s working. You guys, it’s like so much more powerful than just what I alone could do with an individual family, when everybody bands together.
Case Study 1: The Gymnast
The first case study is with this kid, I’m going to call her Chloe. She is a gymnast, and she was struggling with a couple of different, outside of sport, anxiety issues. She had a major fear of throwing up, and also had some struggles with getting to school. There were days when she could not get to school. She was so anxious, her mom could not get her out of the house without hysterics to get to school. Mom was like “Oh my gosh, what is happening in school that you can’t get there?” Then, any time that she started to get nervous, she’d feel nauseous. She had this overwhelming fear of throwing up.
Meanwhile, this girl is a very capable gymnast. Hardworking, really kind to her teammates, really just a total joy to work with. In the gym, she’s on. She’s awesome, and then she goes to compete and she gets so nervous that she actually has been injured in competition because she was so nervous she completely lost focus and then had a pretty serious fall on beam.
What’s the Worst Case Scenario?
This is what I do with athletes who struggle with general anxiety. The first thing I do, and you guys might think like “What?,” The first thing I do is I go “Okay. Let’s talk about the worst case. Worst case scenario is what?” I’m like “Okay. What are they going to come up with here?” Kids are so creative. Usually they’ll go “Well worst case, I fall a bunch, I fail, I let people down, I disappoint people, but mostly I disappoint myself.” That’s what we kind of always boil it down to: “Mostly I’m going to disappoint myself. My team knows how hard I work. My parents love me and they know that I melt down at competition, and I don’t know why. Everybody just wants me to do well. So worst case, I disappoint my family, I let my coaches down, and I get really disappointed and/or I get myself hurt at competition because I’m so stressed” which has happened already in this situation.
She’s like “Yeah, that’s pretty much the worst case scenario.” Then we look at it and go “Okay. That was awful. It was awful. It was not something anybody ever wants to go through, actually becoming injured to the point where you need to stop and leave the competition and all out of nerves.” She went through that. She went to the doctor. Things got resolved. Then she had this moment with her parents where they’re like “Geez, we need to do something about it,” and that’s when they reached out to me. That was it, that was the worst, that was the worst thing that could happen, and it happened. She survived it.
You Get Through and Survive It
Sometimes, that’s what we have to start with: you survived it, right? Worst case thing happened, and here you are to talk about it. You made it through and we’re here and you’re okay and today’s Wednesday and whatever. Sometimes just to break it down and be like “Everything in this moment that we’re actually in right now, not the future that’s so scary and we can freak out about, but in this moment, everything is okay. You are okay. Yes?” They can usually say “Well yes.”
Then we go into “Okay. If you fall 500 times at your next competition, what’s the worst that would happen as far as letting people down?” Okay, parents might be upset. Mostly the kid is like “My parents put so much money into this sport. They’re going to be upset if I don’t do well.” I send them to their parents and say “Let’s talk about it. Okay. If I mess up, will you be disappointed in me?” They actually have an honest conversation. A lot of the time the kids realize “my parents love me because I’m me, and not because I do well at my sport.” They know that, but they don’t know that until they actually have that conversation. Being able to actually chat about “Mom, I’m so scared of letting you down,” and then mom’s like “Oh, honey. Even if you completely fail, I will never stop loving you and I’m so proud of you and don’t even worry about that. Of course we spend the money because we make a choice as a family to do that. Don’t put so much on yourself.”
Talk It Out
Typically, these kids who experience anxiety in a lot of areas of their life are very smart and very aware, too smart and too aware of all of the working parts and the money that’s being spent and all that stuff. Just to be able to go “Oh, hey. Don’t worry about that. No matter if you go worst case scenario, we still love you.”
That’s what we start with. You get stressed. Let’s talk about what the stress is about. If blank happens, how will you cope with it? This is also a skill you could use for life. “What could happen at school? Then how will you deal with that? What will you do if that does happen?” Because the scariest thing is feeling like you don’t have the resources necessary to deal with a situation. That’s what stress is. It’s the feeling that “I don’t have what it takes to get through this. I can’t survive this. I’m not strong enough.”
Have a Plan
But if you have a plan, you’re like “Well it’s going to suck. I’m not going to like it. This will be bad. I will not be a fan of this happening, but this is what I would do if it did happen. If I get into a scary situation at school, I will excuse myself to the bathroom. I will pick up the phone, and I will call my mother. If this happens, I will do this. If this happens, I will do this.” As long as you have a plan for those of us nervous-type people. “If I know I don’t want this to happen, but if it does, this is how I’ll deal with it. If I bomb the competition completely, my parents promise they would take me to ice cream anyway so we’re going to go to ice cream no matter how I do. I’m going to go to bed, I’m going to wake up, I’m going to go back to practice on work on the things I didn’t do well. The end.” Okay. Doesn’t sound like the worst thing ever, right?
All of these kids I’ve worked with, on the sensation of the discomfort of being anxious, is uncomfortable. I’ve driven up to really big talks that I’m giving for giant teams, big groups of people, and it’s always my throat. My chest tenses up really tight and is like “Don’t do it. Go home. Turn the car around.” Obviously I’m like “I’ve got to go and do the talk,” but it’s just that natural fight or flight thing, that anxiety that comes up when it’s like “I want to do well. I really don’t want to mess this up.”
Accept It Because you Know the Outcome
Then I’ve learned that it’s fine. If I have that feeling, it’s fine because I’m going to, I’m always going to get back in the car and call my husband and he’s going to say “How’d it go?” I’m going to say “It went awesome.” And he’s going to be like “No kidding. It went awesome. You don’t say?” That’s our running joke, that I’m going to be nervous and he’s going to be like “You’re going to be amazing.” Then I call him, and I’m like “It was amazing,” and he’s like “No? You don’t say?” He just has so much faith in me that that’s just what happens. I can even just fast forward to that. Here I am with my heart pounding in my car, and then I can fast forward to calling him and him being like “How’d it go?” And me being like “It was great.”
That can help, but also getting used to the feeling of “I don’t like to feel that way.” I’m like “Raise your hand if you like to feel the feeling of anxiety, the stomach nausea, clenching of your chest and your throat, heart pounding, feeling sweaty. Who likes to feel that way?” Maybe you do. Maybe some of you guys are like “I love it.” I mean for some of you, you get excited to compete, so it’s part of that and some people are like “Yes, this is go time.” But for most of us, we don’t like that feeling.
Catching a Panic Attack
For people who get real anxious, we’re like “Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.” How do you make it stop? You get in your car and you drive away or you’re like “Ah, I can’t make it stop. This is so bad” Which then actually turns into — I don’t want to use clinical terms because I told you I’m not a psychologist — a panic attack, or what a lot of people call a panic attack. It’s basically the sensation of anxiety that feels like it’s going to take you over and you can’t handle it and all you want to do is make it stop, make it stop, make it stop, and it won’t stop and it won’t stop and it feels awful. It can make you throw up which this girl was like terrified of throwing up.
Let Yourself Feel
What I teach is actually to make peace with that feeling. That comes in handy in every possible situation. I was doing one of these episodes where my aunt was listening, and she had just experienced the death of her father. She went through that experience of feeling the the way you don’t want to feel, and she was able to let it wash over her and process out a little bit. She was like “It’s the best I’d felt in weeks because I actually just felt the feeling.”
For those of you who are nervous, giving yourself permission to feel it even if it’s inconvenient because there’s never a convenient time to feel that way, but you just go in and feel it. It’s crazy. Just talking about it, I can feel it in my throat. You just let it be there and you stop resisting. A lot of anxiety is the resistance to the anxiety so when you learn to stop resisting it, accept what could go wrong, “Okay. What does this feel like? Okay,” you’re not fighting anymore.
Case Study 2: The Swimmer
Then I teach techniques. For each of these kids, it’s been different things that really help them. One girl, my swimmer, Olivia, used to have panic attacks in the pool while racing. What we figured out for her was that she needed to have, what I call, positive distractions. She needed to have something else to think about because she worked so hard in practice, she could fully lean on her training. Well she wanted to fully lean on her training, but she didn’t know how and she wasn’t that good at it. I taught her how to lean on her training.
Work Through Your Nerves
She would just chat. That was her assignment. At a meet, you chat with your friends, you think about your cat, you think about lasagna. Literally these were two of the things that I had her think about because those were things that made her happy. Then she’d just get in and swim. Once she started doing that, she was like “I’m not nervous anymore. I just stopped thinking about the thing that makes me nervous because I know I worked hard enough to be able to trust myself.” It seems really simple, but you guys, it’s that simple. It’s a shift from “I need to try very, very hard” to “I just need to train my butt off and go do it and then see what happens.”
She and I had also worked through the “Okay. What do you need to do to prepare?” Each of these athletes that I worked with had a pre-performance routine of something that they would do that would get them in their ideal zone. Each of these athletes is different in what they needed. One has a song and some breathing, and one has a different thing that she does to get herself in the right energy zone. For those of you guys who are in the community, there are two courses in there. The Perform Happy Community is a collection of courses plus live trainings plus access to me.
Two of them that are super helpful, one is the pre-performance mental strategy. It actually takes you through coming up with your own routine. Then the other one which is a little bit more advanced for those of you upper level athletes is called automatic self-trust. This teaches you how to build the foundation of being able to actually just trust yourself and stop thinking. Those two, I recommend for you members.
Case Study 3: The Figure Skater
My figure skater. With her, we did a pre-performance routine. We addressed a lot of the ways she talked to herself. There were certain things she would say to herself like “I’m tired” right before she’d go for a big jump. I’m like “Okay. Do you think that that’s setting you up for success?” She’s like “Gosh, no. That doesn’t make any sense.” She started thinking instead of “I’m tired” before she’d go, she’d think about “Skate like so-and-so.” She had somebody who she really looked up to who she trained with who was a couple levels above her who’s just on. This girl could nail any jump. She was super confident. She loved to compete. She’s like “I’m going to skate like her.” She put that hat on.
Gather Your Confidence
That’s something I’ve done with a couple of these kids too: figure out who’s your confidence, alter ego, and how do you tap into that? Then that’s the hat you can put on when you need it. If I’m walking up to a presentation for 1000 athletes, I can turn on Super Rebecca and be like “This version of me is not scared. This version of me loves the attention and the whatever.” So if you learn, if you kind of figure out who’s the best version of me, and yes, it is you. That’s the secret. We go through and I’m like “Okay. The most confident you, tell me all about her.” Then I’m like “Okay. Are you this?” “Well yeah.” “Are you this?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I’m like “Oh my gosh, the best version of you is actually you. How convenient.”
Then they just learn how to kind of embody that instead of the negative version. So we do a lot of knocking out negative self-talk because that’s what gets the worry machine going. The worry machine is basically the root of anxiety, the “What if? What could go wrong,” this whole “I’m looking at the big picture and it looks horrible.” Then I’m like “Okay. Let’s just go in the moment. No more big picture. No more ‘What if everything goes horrible?’ Just do what’s in front of you.” That’s kind of like a big picture view of how I work with kids that have anxiety. I do a lot more technique-y stuff, but that gives you an idea.
The Overall Message
Just to give you a quick rundown of who’s doing what, one of these gymnasts is on the national team for a different country, one of these gymnasts has a college scholarship. These are kids I’ve conglomerated into one. One of these kids went from worst season ever to really, really nailing it this season. One other one went from being too scared to even go to school to now school’s no problem, gym’s going great.
Then I’ve got my figure skater who qualified to nationals. The year prior, she fully crashed and burned so bad, poor thing. Then this past season, she qualified to nationals and she’s like the up and coming, ones of these up and coming younger skaters because she’s now super confident and positive. Then the other swimmer just basically was like “I guess our work is done because I don’t need you,” which is my ultimate goal when I work with kids one-on-one, that they don’t need me. They’re like “Oh, I get it. I get what I need to do to feel confident.” Great.
Then of course you can stay in the community and keep us posted and help other people and give the hope or you go on your merry way and you go have a good life. That’s my hope. Hopefully I’ve given you guys some hope here if you’re feeling like “I am too nervous. I will never get through this.” There’s so much hope. If you haven’t joined us yet in the community, you can go to performhappy.com and check it out, see if it feels like a good fit for you, and I’ll be back again next week answering questions. Thanks for joining me!