Athletes Need to Stay Calm
When it comes to high pressure situations it is common for everyone, not just athletes, to feel anxiety about the situation. In these types of scenarios it is best to stay calm, don’t overthink and narrow your focus to the task at hand. As we know, anxiety can lead to multiple negative outcomes like drug abuse and other mental health issues. So in these situations it would be best not to let the anxiety get too powerful right? Well according to Jesse Singal in the article “Why Olympic Athletes Shouldn’t Try to Calm Down Before a Big Moment,” it is actually better to remain anxious during these high stakes situations.
While Singal suggests that anxiety can be used as a source of energy and motivation for athletes, and just life in general, using your anxiety can have as much negative outcomes as it can positive. Singal states “It’s better, this research argues, to embrace your anxiety.” Excessive anxiety can have negative consequences on performance. When athletes are too anxious it can interfere with their ability to focus and perform well. This can lead to poor decision making and a lack of confidence. Instead of embracing their anxiety, athletes should calm down before a big moment, calming down can help athletes maintain their composure, focus and perform to the best of their abilities.
Singal also argues that trying to convince your body that you are excited instead of anxious, will help you perform better. Singal states “Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School found, in four studies “involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance,” that “reappraising anxiety as excitement” led to better performance.” While yes, this can be true, but convincing your body to turn anxiety into excitement is way easier said than done. This strategy can also differ from people to people. Some individuals may benefit from it, but others may find it unhelpful. People have different personalities and experiences which can affect how they respond to to anxiety and other emotions. It is important to recognize that what works for one person may not work for another and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing anxiety, Singal fails to realize this.
Singal tries to argue that anxiety and excitement are in the same category, when they are not. Singal states “The contestant who is excited rather than anxious will get the most out of their body during the action of flow.” While this is also true, it also assumes that anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin, which is not entirely accurate. While anxiety and excitement share some similarities, they are fundamentally different emotions with distinct physiological and cognitive responses. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of apprehension, fear and uncertainty. While excitement is associated with the feelings and anticipation, enthusiasm and optimism, Therefore it is not clear whether reappraising anxiety as excitement actually leads to better performance or whether it simply changes the way we experience anxiety.
Another approach to anxiety and excitement that Singal states is “Recognizing that you are feeling anxious, and naming the source of your anxiety.” While this strategy can be useful for some individuals, it may not always be effective for athletes in high-pressure situations. Athletes may experience a range of emotions including anxiety, fear, excitement and adrenaline during competition. However, in the heat of the moment, it may be challenging to identify the exact source of these emotions. Additionally, naming the source of anxiety may not necessarily lead to better performance or help athletes overcome their fears or doubts. Instead, athletes may need more comprehensive and targeted strategies to manage their emotions and optimize their performance, such as visualization, goal-setting, positive self-talk or seeking support from their coaches and teammates. While recognizing and naming the source of anxiety may be a helpful technique in some situations, it is not a silver bullet for athletes and should be used in conjunction with other strategies to support their mental and emotional well-being.
The idea that recognizing our tendency to stress more and more intensely is crucial to managing stress as Singal states, “The key to ‘owning’ your stress is to recognize that we tend to stress more, and more intensely.” While recognizing this tendency can be helpful, it is not a comprehensive or universally effective solution. Individuals may have different reasons for experiencing stress, and simply acknowledging their tendency to stress may not address the root causes of their stress. Moreover, some people may have chronic or severe stress that requires more targeted and specialized interventions, such as therapy, medication or lifestyle changes. Also, some stressful situations may be unavoidable or beyond someone’s control, such as job loss, illness or relationship problems, making it difficult to manage stress solely by recognizing one’s stress patterns.
Singal suggests that stress is not inherently negative but rather an adaptive response, as she states in her article, “The evolutionary goal of the stress response was to help boost the body and mind into enhanced functioning, to help us grow and meet the demands we face.” For athletes, stress can be a useful tool to improve performance, but only up to a certain point. When stress becomes excessive or chronic, it can lead to physical and mental fatigue, burnout and injury. Athletes should manage their stress levels effectively and balance the demands of training and competition with rest and recovery. It is also essential to recognize that different athletes may respond to stress differently, and some may be more susceptible to the negative effects of stress than others.
Lastly, Singal says that stress and anxiety is are universal things to feel, as she states in her article, “And it’s as useful for an office worker as it is for an Olympic sprinter.” This is definitely true as we all feel stress and anxiety, but the stressors that Olympic athletes face vs what an office worker may face are vastly different, which ultimately means they will need to use different strategies. For example, an Olympic sprinter will face stressors related to intense physical training and competition, whereas an office worker may face stressors related to tight deadlines and heavy workloads. Athletes may work with their coaches and sports psychologists while an office worker may seek help through employee assistance programs.
All things considered, anxiety is a common experience for individuals in high-pressure situations, and it can have negative impacts on mental health and well-being if left unchecked. And while in Jesse Singal’s article “Why Olympic Athletes Shouldn’t Try to Calm Down Before a Big Moment,” argues that embracing anxiety is better to do than calming down, this in fact is not the best thing to do. It is better to stay calm, maintain your focus and don’t overthink. Trying to deal with stress and anxiety is very difficult to do and there is no simple solution to it.
Singal, J. (2016, August 4). Why Olympic Athletes Shouldn’t Try to Calm Down Before a Big Moment. The Cut. Retrieved April 26, 2023,