Dealing with Anxiety Issues

I have done some thinking over the past week or so, about what I do, how I train, how I race, trying to uncover anxiety issues before a race and why it affects my enjoyment of the event. It came to down to one thing; the swim.

Every race comes with a feeling of anxiety. I don’t think I am alone there, but the swim is different. Even though I can physically do the swim, and have on numerous occasions, the anxiety it causes the week’s leading up to the event, the morning of the event, and the event itself has resulted in me having a bad time instead of enjoying the experience.

So what is the solution?

I think the bottom line is what am I attempting to accomplish? I have completed a number of 70.3’s, countless sprint and olympic distance triathlons, at least 3-4 half marathon’s each year, and cycling events. It is not a matter of proving to myself, or anyone else for that matter, whether or not a 265 pound, 52 year old man can accomplish these events. He can. I have. What the net net of this journey has always been to reclaim my health, to be in-shape, to live my life more actively and fully. While my life as a whole is not the happiest it can be, steps have been made to better it, and I have more people in my life now that are good for me rather than bad for me. So, the question before me, is how to recapture the enjoyment rather than making anxiety increase?

It struck me last week that, even though I can complete the swims in these races physically, the anxiety it causes is becoming not worth it, so maybe it is best to eliminate this portion but still compete in these festivals.

Luckily there is a way to do exactly that.

I have to give some credit here to my client and friend Dave Baldwin. This man enjoys competing. You can feel it in him, and recently he signed up for and competed in duathlon racing (even qualifying for USAT Nationals this weekend).

I had never even considered a duathlon (basically, a run takes the place of the swim, so for a sprint it would be a 1 mile run, bike, then a 3.1 mile run). As you know, I struggle on my running (psoriatic arthritis issues) but I can always walk if I need to, so running never provoked anxiety in me.

I have a few triathlons left this year, so I sent a message to Jennifer and posed the question, “I am thinking about changing my triathlon’s to duathlons. What do you think?”

I could almost feel to relief coming through the text response.

Now, let’s be clear, I was already deciding to change the races over, but the fact that Jennifer was on board helps as well. I like racing with her, and this actually affords us the ability to start together, maybe begin the ride together, and be close to finishing together. She is much stronger on the bike in these events than I am, but in the past my mental condition was so wiped from the swim my bike suffered. Maybe this will fix that?

As far as dealing with anxiety, there is no “cure all”, and really no guarantee that race issues won’t still be there. That’s the thing with anxiety and depression; you never know when it’s coming or what really triggers it. How can you tell if someone has never had the issue? That’s easy. If you share with them that you are feeling anxious, of “off” (code word in my case for depressed) they’ll ask you things like “Why?”.

Seriously, if you know someone who’s going through anxiety or a depressive moment, don’t ask them “why”. It’s irritating. If it was as simple as that we would fix it. Most of the time we don’t know ‘why’.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America A bit depressing to know that there is such a thing in of itself), there are methods to deal with anxiety. They are:

  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
  • Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
  • Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
  • Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
  • Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
    Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
 Some items on this list are irritating unto themselves. Get Enough Sleep? Easier said then done. Ever try to sleep while having an anxiety attack? But most make sense to me. Exercise Daily is a definite plus, and it works, but if you’re in a depression the actual act of getting out the door and running is almost undoable. This is when having good training partners, friends, etc. helps. They will get you out the door. Take Deep Breaths or Counting to Ten? Meh. Not so helpful in my case. Good Humor absolutely works. Many of my episodes have been stymied by watching comedy or listening to a good funny routine. Talking to Someone does help, if it is the right person and the right response (see the “why” question above). And Meditation (something that is recommended to me on a regular basis) really doesn’t work. My mind doesn’t calm down enough, at least not yet.

Of all of the suggestions though, the one thing I point to is what I was writing about; Learn the Trigger. This can be difficult, especially if you are not the inner soul searching type, or the type that can find the issue but it is something you might be unwilling to, or unable to, do something about (job, marriage, kids, etc.). This is also where a good friend can be very handy, especially one that knows what it is like to be like this and have the issue. They can help you work to the root cause and figure out a way to handle it. Sometimes it IS as simple as redefining what type of race you compete in, and at others it might be truly life altering and circumstances might not allow for a fix at that point. The first step in either case is to find the trigger, and then plan a way to fix the issue.

A plan can go a long way toward mental calmness.