Beating Anxiety the Triathlon Way
Beating anxiety is an active process that is not unlike participating in a triathlon. To find solution focused help to beat anxiety and live the life you desire takes commitment and dedication to the greater goal of living an anxiety-free life (Stop Avoiding Anxiety! Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)). For athletes who participate in triathlons, these events really aren’t merely single events. "Triathlon" describes a lifestyle. Similarly, beating anxiety isn’t just an event but instead is a lifestyle. Just as completing a triathlon requires action, so does beating anxiety. The following approach will help you beat anxiety the triathlon way.
Beating Anxiety: Set a Goal
What is your mental health fitness level right now? Rate your overall anxiety on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the most extreme anxiety you can possibly imagine. This is like a physical exam an athlete receives before training. What is his or her overall level of fitness? What is your overall level of anxiety?
If an athlete’s physical exam shows low blood pressure and some wheezing in the lungs, he or she will need to address those issues before fully embracing the triathlon lifestyle. He’ll determine a goal around these issues, and he’ll begin work to achieve his goal. In doing so, he’s already living the triathlon lifestyle because he has defined a goal and will develop steps to accomplish it.
You can begin to live an anxiety-free lifestyle by evaluating where you are and setting one goal at a time for beating anxiety. Regarding anxiety, where are you right now, and where do you want to be instead?
Beating Anxiety: Intentionally Work Toward Three Things
Triathlons have three components: swimming, bicycling, and running. To beat anxiety the triathlon way, think of your own anxiety challenge in three parts.
- Identify the training steps you need to take. You have made a goal, and now it’s time to break down the goal into manageable parts. An ironman triathlon participant doesn’t just jump in and swim over two miles, bike over 110 miles, and run a marathon. She trains in each area, gradually working up to her ultimate goal. Identify three areas of your life that you want to experience without anxiety getting in your way. It could be work, family, school, socializing, the ability to go outside and take a walk in the park, or a host of other life areas. Start with three, because three is a manageable number that also helps you feel as though you’re making progress.
- Create a daily training plan. Determine what small steps you need to take every day to eventually beat anxiety. Commit to doing them by writing them down and keeping them someplace where you can refer to them throughout the day. Be intentional about following through with your plan.
- Take care of your whole being. Remember, beating anxiety is a lifestyle rather than a single event. Along the way, you’re living, and you want to live well. Just like a triathlon participant, get proper nutrition and drink plenty of water to hydrate your brain. Also, enjoy yourself. Your goal of beating anxiety has a greater purpose: to enjoy yourself and your life. Build in stress-relieving breaks and opportunities for fun. (Self-Care 101)
Beating anxiety the triathlon way means you’re approaching it systematically, living right now, and working toward the life you want. Like triathlons, beating anxiety is a lifestyle. Live it.
I invite you to watch the below video, where I continue the discussion about beating anxiety and training.
NCC, T. (2016, June 30). Beating Anxiety the Triathlon Way, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/06/beating-anxiety-the-triathlon-way
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
More than a metaphor, exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. One study from Loughborough university says exercise promotes “a renewed sense of determination and hope, increased quality of life, and the cultivation of positive self-identity.” I read that from another article: http://psychotherapytoronto.ca/exercising-your-way-to-ptsd-recovery/
I also like how you end with making the point that beating anxiety has a greater purpose. I know with exercise and triathlons we can get so fixated on the end goal that maybe we forget the here and now. Do you think the same thing could happen with those who are suffering from anxiety? I'd love to hear back.
Thank you for the helpful link to the article about exercise and PTSD recovery. (I'll be sharing that on Twitter and Facebook!) You're right on--exercise has been proven in many studies to help a plethora of conditions, related to both mental and physical health (which actually aren't really separate). It has both short-term and long-term benefits. I can personally attest to both.
You're right-on with where we set our sights, too. Anxiety can be so all-consuming that people begin to focus largely on wanting it gone. This can actually increase and prolong anxiety because that focuses all attention and energy on anxiety (kind of like the order, "Don't think about X.") It increases anxiety, too, because when we're focused so much on the end goal, we're missing the present. Living in the present, also known as mindfulness, reduces anxiety in part because the focus is off of anxiety and onto what is happening in life, right now. When people enjoy the moment they're in, stress hormones go down and feelings of anxiety diminish. Of course, some moments aren't enjoyable, but it's important to be present in those, too. Rather than catastrophizing/blowing something out of proportion, projecting worries into the future, etc., by living in the moment, we can deal with whatever it is that's unpleasant or causing a problem. It's normal to want to achieve a goal, like completing a triathlon or living free from anxiety, and of course it's important to work toward that goal. And it's also important to live in the present.
Thank you so much for your comments and curiosity!
You have given me a lot to think about. The idea of mindfulness while also having that end goal seems to be a very important tactic. I know personally that it is very easy to be overcome with those ideas of just trying to fix your anxiety that you end up being counter productive. I will look into this more!
Medium distance running absolutely counts! I actually am a horrible runner, but I'm active in other ways. There are no rigid rules -- this approach is flexible and can be personalized!