What Does Anxiety Do to Us? | Q&A with Coach Rich

Today’s Topic: Anxiety and What it Does to Us.


The World Series

It’s Coach Rich here with Complete Performance Coaching. Before we get into my topic for the today, I want to just talk really quick about the World Series. You know the World Series just ended, it was a great series, very entertaining, so congratulations to the Houston Astros for winning it all. But one of the things I love so much is just being able to see these elite athletes. Just watching them just play at their best.

It’s so much fun to watch, not only from a fan perspective, which I am, but also just from a coaching or a mental toughness perspective. It was a great series. There were a lot of great things we can take from that I wrote about here.


Let’s Talk About Anxiety

You know, we talk about anxiety so much on here, and it’s for a good reason. I mean, anxiety is everywhere, right? You know, we’ve got anxiety not only in sports, but just in everyday life, and it’s a huge part of life. What I wanted to talk about specifically today is the basics of anxiety and what it is. I think anxiety, a lot of times, gets a little bit of a bad rep. A lot of people view anxiety and see it as just this bad thing.

I think the reality is, anxiety is actually a good thing. There’s actually a purpose for anxiety. If you think back to caveman days, for example, you’ve got a caveman that’s out hunting for food and they hear this rumbling in the bushes or something. They’re probably going to have a lot of anxiety, right? I know I would if I was in that situation, because you don’t know what’s in that bush, you don’t know if it’s a saber tooth tiger or something that’s going to try and eat you. That caveman is going to have a lot of anxiety.

Q: What Does Anxiety do to Us?


It Protects Us

It’s this survival mechanism that’s sort of built into our bodies. What happens is, you’ve got these different parts in your brain. The logical part of your brain is where you’re rational and you’re thinking clearly. It’s where a lot of us really want to be most of the time. But what happens a lot of times when we’re really anxious, we’ve got this other part of our brain kind of right in there that’s in the middle, towards the bottom of our brain, and that’s where this fight or flight sort of response is located.

What happens is, when we’re operating in that fight or flight response is, our brain basically sends these signals to our bodies, so it may send blood and oxygen and all of those things to the parts of the body that we need, and it takes away the blood and oxygen from parts of the body that we don’t need. So for example, in our caveman example, the caveman may be having the blood and oxygen go to his legs because he needs to run as quickly as he can to get away from whatever it is.


It Distracts Us

Then what usually happens is our body takes stuff away from other parts of the body, which could be things like your digestive system or other things like that. It’s really an amazing thing, and it’s very functional and the whole purpose is just to kind of keep us alive and to keep us safe to avoid these dangerous situations. But unfortunately, what happens a lot of times, is our brain tells us that we’ve got all these situations that our brain is telling us that it’s a dangerous thing and we need to watch out for it, when it really isn’t. So that’s usually when anxiety becomes a little bit of an issue, and sometimes it’s things that we struggle with.


Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning

What happens a lot of times is the more anxiety we have the better our performance gets. This is where we all want to be really every time we play. As our anxiety goes up, our performance goes up. But then there is this point where it starts to decline.

It’s really important as an athlete to know this. For some people they might peak then drop, and for other people it may be the opposite. For me personally, I had a hard time with anxiety. I had to work really hard on just being able to relax myself. Other people, sometimes, need anxiety, they need that pressure.

This is what I think is really important to have, to really know yourself as an athlete and know kind of where you’re at your best. For this particular person, they need their anxiety to be, let’s say, at a five. You need to know kind of where you are at this current time and how to either move yourself up to a five or to bring yourself down to a five.


What Does Anxiety Do to Us?Anxious Thoughts

The other thing I wanted to talk to you guys about as far as anxiety goes is kind of those anxious thoughts or those anxious feelings that we all have. The reality is, we’ve kind of constantly got these thoughts that are going through our head pretty much all of the time. Sometimes we pay attention to those thoughts, other times we don’t.

It’s kind of like, if you’ve ever had the radio playing in the background and sometimes you completely forget that it’s on, but then every once in a while you may hear this song and you kind of really get into it and you start moving along or singing, and you really focus on the song. Well, that’s kind of what our thoughts are like. We’ve always got these thoughts going through our head, but then we always have particular thoughts that we really kind of grab a hold on and we really focus on. When those thoughts are negative thoughts or anxious thoughts or anything like that, that’s when we start to struggle a little bit, and that’s when we start to have this anxiety.


Home Depot

A couple of analogies I use a lot of times when I talk to people about anxiety that I think are helpful. This first one I call my Home Depot analogy. Actually I just went to Home Depot today, so it’s kind of funny that I’m talking about this now. For those of you that have been to Home Depot or Lowe’s or any sort of store like that, you know that they’re basically filled with tools, right? For me I like to look at my thoughts and my feelings as a tool, as something that I can use.

Let’s say I have a picture frame that I want to hang on the wall. I’ve got the picture frame, I just need a hammer and nails, and so I go to Home Depot to go get this hammer and nails. Now, for those of you that know, Home Depot’s filled with tools, there’s just aisles filled with all kinds of different sorts of tools.

Let’s say I’m walking, the hammer and nail aisle is all the way in the back, and so I’m walking, and as I walk through the first aisle I pass the screwdrivers and screws. Normally what I should do is I’ll walk by and I’ll be, “Hey, look there’s screwdriver and screws.” And I’ll just keep walking until I get to the hammer and nails, get what I need, and leave, right?

Well, what usually happens to us, especially when we’re stuck is we walk by the screwdriver and screw aisle and we get focused on that, and we look at that and we say, “Hey, there’s screwdriver and screws. Do I need a screwdriver? What size screwdriver? Do I need Phillips? Do I need flathead? What kind of screw do I need?” We go through this whole process and become so focused on the screwdriver and screws, when what I really need is a hammer and nails. We do that a lot of times with our thoughts, and we focus on thoughts that we don’t need.


So you Think you Can Dance

The other way that I like to think of this is … Some of you may have seen the show So You Think You Can Dance. Now, if I was going to go on that show, first of all, I am a terrible dancer. Yeah, I’m just bad. There’s no way around that really. If I were to go on that show I would be having all kinds of negative thoughts. I’d be thinking, “You’re going to embarrass yourself. You’re an idiot for even thinking that you should go on the show.” Just a lot of thoughts like that, right?

To a certain extent some of those may be valid, they may be realistic thoughts. But at some point in that thought process, I may have this thought of, “You know, if you work hard enough you might actually do okay.” If I’m looking at those different kinds of thoughts, which one is going to be more helpful? It’s going to be the one that says, “If you work hard enough, you might actually do okay.” That’s a thought that I’m just going to grab a hold of and I’m not going to let it go. I’m just going to focus on that thought. Because those other thoughts, those aren’t tools that I want, those thoughts are not helpful. Those are the thoughts that I’m just going to try and ignore.


Focus on What you Need to

We need to be able to just grab a hold of whatever thought that is helpful and focus on that one. If we can do that, then we’re going to be in a better place to reach our potential. We’ll be in a better place to succeed. You know, going back to the World Series, those guys I’m sure, I’m guessing, were focused on all of those positive thoughts or those helpful thoughts.

If you’re focused on the negative thoughts, you’re not going to be able to succeed in a stage like that. Hopefully this is all helpful for you guys. I think it’s something that helps us in all aspects of our life, whether it’s sports or school or just everyday life.

If you guys have any other questions, please feel free to ask, and I will be happy to answer them. Bye.


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