Reducing Running Anxiety To Help Your Running Performance
Running training and racing can be filled with a sense of excitement and positivity. If you’ve been training for a key race that you really want to take part in, then you can feel upbeat, enthused, excited and filled with motivation and positive anticipation for it.
Yet sometimes, anxiety can rear it’s head around your running. Maybe you find yourself feeling uncomfortably nervous, tense and edgy about certain parts of your running performance. It may be those long training runs that make you feel anxious, you might have negative thoughts about training with others, feel tense about the pressures of speed work or find that your running anxiety impairs your performance when you run or race.
Certainly race day tends to bring at least some level of nervousness, excitement and anticipation as you get up and get ready and onto the start line. But too much anxiety about the race can mean you don’t feel at your best, that you feel tense and tired, and your mind can fill with negative thoughts and doubt about your running and your ability to perform as well as you know you can.
Any over-arousal before your train or race is going to burn up your energy, tense up your muscles, and mean you may not achieve your running goals or perform how you want to. Some runners I’ve worked with find themselves even feeling anxious (about something they chose to do and want to do!) a few days before. It can affect sleep and fuelling. It can lead to countless trips to the toilet, it can make you irritable and uncertain, and it can lead to that queasy, sick feeling in your stomach. On top of that, anxiety can leave you wondering if you are able to run well, whether things are likely to go wrong, how you’ll cope if you don’t achieve your goal and countless other worst case scenarios and self doubts inside your mind.
In my early races, I would often feel a bit sick and struggle to manage my arousal levels before a race. By the time I got to the start line, all the adrenaline and energy I’d needlessly burned through in advance, could mean I felt physically tired before I even started running.
It’s probably not uncommon to find that you don’t sleep too well the night before a big race, and that in itself is not a problem, but if you feel unwell through anxiety, if those unwanted thoughts and feelings are impairing your running performance, then it’s worth learning how to reduce your running anxiety and get in the zone where your level of arousal is relaxed enough to perform well, yet not so calm that it stops you performing well.
Reducing Running Anxiety
When you run, whether in training or races, you want your levels of arousal to be as optimal as you can. You want a certain level of energy, enthusiasm, adrenaline and focus to allow you to run well. Yet you want to make sure that your thoughts and feelings don’t tip the balance into feeling anxious and worried, in a way that could impair your running performance.
One of the most effective, in the moment, ways of controlling how you feel and your arousal levels, is by using your breathing, something that I’m incorporating in this process for reducing your running anxiety. You want to feel relaxed, confident and focused and ready to run well.
As with all anxiety, running anxiety involves thinking unwanted negative thoughts and using your imagination in unhelpful ways about something in the future. You can feel all those anxious feelings, from that feeling at the pit of your stomach, to tension, restlessness and tightness of the chest. The more frequently you feel anxious and think and imagine negatively about aspects of your running, the more those thoughts and feelings become associated with running and racing. Soon you can find that the unwanted thoughts and feelings seem to just happen and you are left somehow trying to counter them and battle with them.
In the reducing running anxiety process I am sharing here today, you are learning how to take control and manage your thoughts, feelings and arousal levels about aspects of your running that used to cause you anxiety. As well as creating a positive association with running, you will be learning how to take control over your thoughts and feelings and how to manage your emotions in real life situations when you are training or racing.
The steps I’m covering here will help you to build your ability to feel the right level of calmness, confidence and control in those situations where you used to feel anxiety and dread. As you create your own arousal scale in your mind and practice how to lower your scale to a more comfortable level, you will find yourself more in control over how you feel in those running situations.
Follow these steps to begin reducing running anxiety:
1. Ensuring you are sitting somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you know self-hypnosis techniques you could incorporate these here. Start to extend your out breath and say the word ‘relax’ to yourself on every breath out. You could tense and relax each part of your body or tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. You could imagine a calm colour or sensation spreading through you or fill your mind with a relaxing sound. You could engage your imagination and then imagine being in a remembered or created place of calmness, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Or you can draw upon and utilise any other ways that allow you to feel comfortable, calm and relaxed. Your aim here is just to feel as safe, calm and comfortable as you can right now.
You can also use either of the processes covered in these articles: The Eye Fixation Induction In Hypnosis, Mindfulness For Anxiety, Stress and Promoting Mental Health
2. As you relax, now bring to mind a successful run, a time when you achieved a personal best, ran well or were pleased with your running in some way, like a time when you were in a positive zone and your running felt good and smooth and your thoughts and feelings were in a good place. Recall it as vividly as you can and imagine being back in that moment now, like you are there running again, seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard and feeling the feelings of running well.
Notice the colours, shades of light and the details. Notice the sounds nearby and any further away and run through this run where you felt accomplished, you ran well, you felt accomplished or you succeeded in a running goal. Run through it as vividly and with as much detail as you can.
As you run through this time, notice all the things that tell you that you are running well. Remind yourself of what you accomplished here, of how capable you are, and that you ran here successfully. There may be other times where you’ve run successfully that you can bring to mind here too.
As you imagine running successfully, notice the kind of things you do and experience when you run well. Be aware of how you hold your body, your movements, the kind of thoughts you think to yourself and the kind of emotions, sensations and feelings you experience. Notice and be aware of your belief in your own running ability, your focus, confidence, motivation, persistence and determination as you run. Imagine the positive feelings spreading through you as something that you are getting more and more used to. Give it a colour and spread it into every part of you, or a sound that resonates within you, and imagine amplifying and magnifying those feelings.
3. As you continue to recall this positive running experience, inside of your mind, imagine a large scale of some kind, like a thermometer, or a dial, that measures from one to one hundred. Have it as vividly as you can in your mind.
Then notice that when you run well, with strength, confidence and focus, the scale sits nicely in the middle of the measurements, at around half way on your scale. This is the level where you run optimally and where you perform well. Too high on the scale and you feel anxious, overwhelmed, worried and uncertain and it impairs your running performance. Too low on the scale and your performance is hindered by a lack of energy, motivation, confidence and focus that prevents you running at your best performance level.
4. With your scale in mind, now begin to imagine and think about the sort of running times, places, occasions and situations where your level of unwanted anxiety has been uncomfortably high for you. Imagine that you are there now, in one of those running situations, seeing what you would see, hearing the sounds and noticing how you body feels and the sort of things that go through your mind. As you notice those things, look again at the scale in your mind and notice that the scale is now reading a much higher level than before. Notice the difference in the scale and notice the difference in how you feel in this running experience.
5. Now, you can learn how to bring the scale right back down again to a level where you feel more calm, confident and focused in this particular running situation. And start to imagine with every breath in you are breathing in the confidence, focus and strength of your optimal running zone, and that with every breath out, you breathe away any tension and anything negative or unnecessary.
Really imagine and tell yourself that with every breath in you are filling yourself with more and more of the confidence, strength and focus and then relaxing more as you breathe out again.
As you continue to breathe in this way, each time you breathe in, say a word such as ’strong’, ‘confident’ or ‘focused’ to yourself, and every time you breathe out, say the word, ‘relax’ to yourself. As you continue to breathe in this way, start to notice how with every breath the scale moves down closer and closer to the optimal level where you run at your best and where you are in that positive zone where your running feels good and smooth and your thoughts and feelings are in a good place. Continue breathing in this way until you reach as close as you can to that optimal, central level on the scale, where you feel confident, strong and focused in your running.
6. Then move onto and imagine being in another kind of running time, place or situation where in the past you have experienced excessive, unwanted anxious thoughts and feelings. Imagine being there, noticing what you see and hear, how your body feels and the sort of things that go through your mind in this situation. And, again, notice that when you experience these unwanted anxious thoughts and feelings the scale reads at a much higher level.
And then once again start to imagine that with every breath in you are breathing in confidence, strength and focus (and the other feelings you associate with good running performance), and with every breath out, you breathe away any tension and relax. Every time you breathe in say the word’ confidence’ or ‘focus’ or ‘strong’ to yourself and when you breathe out you repeat the word, ‘relax’ to yourself. Continue breathing in this way until you reach the optimal, positive running performance level on the scale.
7. Having done this, now imagine yet another running time, place or situation where you used to experience unwanted anxious thoughts and feelings about running. Imagine being there now, noticing what you see and hear, how your body feels and the sort of things that go through your mind, and noticing again what the reading on the scale is for you here.
And then once again take control and use your breathing to move the scale back to the optimal level where you run well, where you are confident, strong and focused where your running feels good and your thoughts and feelings are in a good place.
8. Tell yourself and know in your mind that you can access your scale anytime you wish from today, that in any running situation you can notice where you are on the scale and then lowering it to a more positive level for you as you breathe. Then, having done so, and knowing that it’s just going to happen, and knowing that you’ve got this, now, count up from one up to five inside of your mind, open your eyes and reorientate yourself to your surroundings.
You can practice this technique inside your mind as you think of any aspect of your running that has been causing you too much anxiety so that it impairs your running performance. That might be before a long run, at the start line of a race, when running with others, when competing, or any other anxious running experience. Having practiced this a number of times you can then, when running, bring your dial to mind and ensure you are in the best place for optimal performance.
You can quickly and effectively lower your running anxiety and take control over your thoughts and feelings in those particular running situations and moments. The more you practice it, the easier it will be to call upon it before you run and when you run and race. Through practice you will be able to use it effectively and beneficially, and you will just find yourself feeling better and better in your running.
To your running success,
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