Competition anxiety will affect all of us, although the extent to which it strikes varies from athlete to athlete. We are often told “it’s good to be a bit nervous” but anything more than a few butterflies in your stomach can prevent you from reaching your full performance potential. In order to perform at a standard you are physically capable of it is crucial you learn how to control competition anxiety.
In order to successfully deal with competition anxiety, you need to accurately assess the level of fear you are feeling, and have a pre-planned way to deal with the anxiety when it gets to dangerous levels that may negatively affect your performance. The ‘Emotional Thermometer’ is an imaginary tool that helps you assess your level of anxiety and manage it early on, to prevent the detrimental performance effects. The Emotional Thermometer is comprised of three stages, much like a traffic light:
Green on the Emotional Thermometer means you are feeling happy, stress free and most importantly are able to think clearly.
Yellow means you are a little stressed and anxious, your thoughts have become affected by your anxiety.
Red means you are out of control. Your thoughts are completely irrational and you have feelings of anger, frustration or disappointment.
Obviously these levels are subjective, but as long as you are personally aware of which anxiety levels fit in each bracket, the thermometer will be successful.
To keep on top of your competition anxiety, you need to take your emotional temperature every 15 to 30 minutes, however depending on the length of competition you may need to take it more often. It is vital that you also practice and use the ‘Emotional Thermometer’ in training to ensure you can use it effectively in competition.
If you take your emotional temperature and it is green, at the moment you are fine! Carry on racing and achieve your goals, but keep taking your emotional temperature, things can change instantly in competition! If your temperature strays into the yellow or red zone, you MUST have already thought out your plan of action to quickly lower your anxiety level back to green, and ensure your performance is detrimentally affected as little as possible.
To lower anxiety levels from yellow or red you must have a predetermined plan of action, however the plan will differ between yellow and red. To return levels to green you must have an already thought out positive memory, thought or action that will calm your anxiety. It is crucial that your memories, thoughts or actions are different for yellow and red, as you are guaranteed to be in all three states at some point during competition and over use of a memory etc, may reduce the efficiency. In the first place, some memories, thoughts or actions may be stronger than others at reducing anxiety levels therefore being more effective for red levels of anxiety. It is a matter of personal choice what memories, thoughts or actions to use. For example, a memory of a race where you had a perfect racing mind-set and won, would be a brilliant example for the yellow zone, but for the red you may need something stronger than a positive memory, such as counting to 10 and controlling your breathing to relax your body and banish anxiety. It completely depends on what works for you and that is why it is crucial you practice using the Emotional Thermometer in training, to ensure that your plan of action, when anxiety levels stray from the green zone, is powerful and durable.
It is probably a good idea to have a couple of memories, thoughts or actions for yellow and red, especially if you are competing in an endurance event such as an Ironman Triathlon, when you are guaranteed to be competing for well over 9 hours and if you are frequently entering either the yellow or red zone, you are very likely to overuse the memory, thought or action and so encounter problems controlling anxiety. It is important to ensure that all memories, thoughts or actions are significant to ensure that they are all effective in combating competition anxiety. Used correctly the Emotional Thermometer is a fantastic tool to keep competition nerves under control.