Written by Nikita Ross

Putting yourself out there and standing in front of a crowd can be challenging. Even those who don’t regularly suffer from anxiety experience this event-specific phenomenon. Call it performance anxiety, stage fright, agoraphobia; call it what you will. Then, pair the fear of messing up with shoving yourself into a glorified sausage casing and making a series of unflattering faces while people stare at you, and you’ve got a recipe for panic.

For my first meet, I purchased a singlet in a lovely shade of emerald green. I thought this color choice would at least bring out my eyes in addition to every other dimple, blemish, and the inner pattern of my belly button.

Nope. I just looked like Peter Pan.

And could you see my underwear through it? Yes, you could.

In short, I was off to a rough start. I was told that I looked progressively more pale and shaky as the day went on.  My opening deadlift was a world qualifier for the International Powerlifting Association. My next two attempts were lower than my PR, and I bombed both of them. In fact, I just kind of forgot how to deadlift entirely. Drop your behind? Don’t stare at the bar? What are these words you speak?

Performance anxiety challenged me and won.

So What Can You Do?

There are a variety of ways to offset performance anxiety, beyond picturing the audience in their underwear. Or do you picture them in singlets in this case? I digress.

Here are some of the best ways to calm your meet jitters:

Practice Everything

And I mean everything. Either with the support of your coach or a friend at the gym, wear your singlet and do a complete dry run of your meet before hand. From the calls, to the lift order, down to what you eat and drink. Humans are creatures of habit. Rehearsing for your meet is like rehearsing for a musical; incorporate show tunes as needed.

Positive Visualization

In the weeks leading up to the meet, start practicing positive visualization. Before your lifts, close your eyes, take a breath, and visualize success. Even during your lighter lifts, practice positive visualization once per training session to get a feel for the method.

A 2009 study investigating the brain patterns in weight lifters showed that when the participants visualized themselves lifting heavy weights, the brain reacted the same as when the participants lifted what they had visualized. Further exploration on this subject revealed that visualization and physical acts yield better results when combined than as individual practices.

So, see it, believe it, do it.

Nourish Yourself

When you practice for your meet, be sure to eat what you plan on eating that day. If possible, try to have a balanced meal consisting of both carbs and protein 1-2 hours before you lift. This meal will help you get through the day and optimize muscle function.

If that’s not possible, go the protein shake route. Add some fruit and greens for a natural energy boost and healthy carb source.

Prepare in advance and pack a lot of nourishing snacks meals, not just supplements. While it may be tempting to indulge after weigh in-- celebratory sushi and carb loading is an irresistible thing-- make sure you don’t overdo it and put yourself in the perilous situation of GI distress. Anxiety can do some weird and wondrous things to your digestive system. It’s best not to realize this during a heavy squat.

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