Performance Anxiety: Understanding and Managing the Pressure to Perform

For athletes, the pressure to perform at a high level is constant. Whether it’s the expectation of coaches, the scrutiny of fans, or the desire to meet personal goals, the pressure to succeed can take a toll on an athlete’s mental health. Performance anxiety, also known as “choking under pressure,” is a common experience for athletes at all levels. In this article, we will explore what performance anxiety is, why it happens, and how sports psychiatrists can help athletes manage this challenging condition.

What is Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety is a type of anxiety that occurs in situations where an individual is expected to perform at a high level. For athletes, this may occur during competitions, training sessions, or even during practice. The anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and trembling. It can also lead to negative thoughts, such as self-doubt, fear of failure, and a sense of being overwhelmed.

Why Does Performance Anxiety Happen?

Performance anxiety can happen for a variety of reasons. It may be related to past experiences of failure or embarrassment, such as missing a critical shot or losing a game. It can also be related to the pressure to meet high expectations, either from coaches, fans, or the athlete themselves. In some cases, performance anxiety may be related to underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or depression.

How Can Sports Psychiatrists Help?

Sports psychiatrists are mental health professionals who specialize in working with athletes and individuals involved in sports. They are trained to understand the unique challenges that athletes face and to provide effective treatments for a range of mental health issues, including performance anxiety.

The first step in managing performance anxiety is to identify the underlying causes of the anxiety. Sports psychiatrists work with athletes to identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to their anxiety and to develop coping strategies that help them manage their symptoms.

One effective treatment for performance anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. Sports psychiatrists can work with athletes to develop personalized CBT plans that help them manage their anxiety and perform at their best.

In some cases, sports psychiatrists may also recommend medication to help manage anxiety symptoms. Medications such as beta-blockers can help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and trembling.

In addition to therapy and medication, sports psychiatrists may also recommend relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation. These techniques can help athletes manage their anxiety symptoms and perform at a high level.


Performance anxiety is a common experience for athletes, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. With the help of sports psychiatrists, athletes can learn to manage their anxiety symptoms and perform at their best. By understanding the underlying causes of performance anxiety and developing effective coping strategies, athletes can overcome the pressure to perform and achieve their goals. If you are an athlete struggling with performance anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to a sports psychiatrist for help.