The Winter Olympics: What We Can Learn About Overcoming Anxiety
It is almost time for the 2010 Winter Olympics to begin. Opening ceremonies take place on February 12 and the sporting events and competitions will last through February 28th. A complete schedule of events can be found on the official Vancouver 2010 web site providing details about each sport including speed skating, ice hockey, snowboarding and my personal favorite, figure skating. These are just some of the sports in which athletes will ideally demonstrate their very best for the entire world to see. Talk about pressure!
I was just reading a news article by Pat Graham about Canadian downhill skier Eric Guay and all the performance anxiety he faces even before the Winter Olympics begin. There is a lot of pressure on this 28-year-old as the favorite to finally win the gold for Canada in Vancouver. Canada has not yet won gold at a home Olympics and the Canadian men's ski team has never gotten anything beyond Bronze for the downhill or super-G competitions. But this could all change this year with Guay' s performance.
I always wonder if there are practice sessions where things go perfectly and the athletes are wishing and praying that they can duplicate that perfection when everyone is watching and when it counts. It is a lot of skill and talent to do what they do but luck is also involved. And also nerves. Can they channel their energy to performing their best or will they choke under the pressure? I suppose they really don't know until that moment arrives.
In Pat Graham's article, "With Olympics looming, Canadian skier Erik Guay not allowing anxiety to weigh on him" Guay talk s about how he has tamed his performance anxiety. Here are some strategies for overcoming performance anxiety that I have gleaned from reading about this athlete:
1. One of the first things Erik Guay did to help release his anxiety was to admit that he was feeling it in the first place. Guay describes this process as "liberating."
2. He remains in the present. Guay talks about focusing on his skiing and not all the other extraneous elements such as his sponsor or his image.
3. He lets go of a certain outcome. Guay speaks about no longer fretting over results or the hopes of a nation for him to get a certain medal. He tries to direct his energies to the slopes.
4. Don't let setbacks deter you from your goal. Guay has suffered at times from an aching back but this does not cause him to give up.
Most of us cannot imagine the anxiety or pressure that these Olympians will face during these competitions. So much of their life has been centered on that one moment in time. And let's face it, the goal is to win. Despite the fact that few of us will become gold winning athletes in the Olympics, many of us do experience performance anxiety at one time or another. And I think that the strategies used by these athletes to overcome anxiety can help us in our everyday lives. It is possible to feel performance anxiety for tests, for meetings at work, or for giving a public presentation.
Last October I had to give a presentation at a conference and I did utilize all the strategies that Erik Guay talks about. I absolutely admitted that I was nervous before my talk to the people who could help support me. This was my first speech ever and I was terrified. I tried to remain present and not dwell on what ifs such as "What if I look foolish?" Sometimes I imagine myself with horse blinders on in those situations and keep my focus to what is right in front of me as that is the only thing I have under my control. I simply cannot control all those other external factors. I remember thinking to myself that even if I was the worst speaker in the room, I could take pride in the fact that I did this and made it through. I let go of any expectations that I had to be the best and focused on the task at hand. One of my supporters for my speech gave me excellent advice beforehand and that was to channel all that nervous energy into my talk. We always have energy and you might as well use it to help yourself. The last strategy of not allowing setbacks to detour you is also a good one. During my talk, I couldn't get the slides to click properly. But I didn't panic and I figured it out and did not let this setback interfere with my speech. When I was done I was very proud of myself. Pressure? Performance anxiety? I felt them both acutely. In the end I persevered.
Perseverance is one of those life essentials whether you are an athlete in the Olympics or a phobic person who is giving a speech for the first time in your life. These strategies for overcoming anxiety can help you through many of life's situations.
Now it is your turn! What methods or strategies do you use for coping with and overcoming performance anxiety? Let us hear your story. You can help someone else who may need to hear your words today.