Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques have been proven to help alleviate anxiety in athletes. CBT for athletes can help them deal with stress inside and outside the world of sports.
Championships, games, playing in big arenas, health issues, personal problems – there is no lack of reasons to be stressed. Eventually, this constant state of stress can lead to anxiety-related issues and disorders.
CBT for athletes has been credited with helping athletes manage stress, athletic performance enhancement, and mental health improvement. A study looked into how athletes responded to general stress in sports and used CBT to change that response.
The study focused on a group of cognitive-behavioral approaches called cognitive restructuring. It comprises the deconstruction of depreciative and unhelpful thoughts, restructuring them into more positive emotions that are useful and balanced.
By using cognitive restructuring which aims to regulate negative cognitive thoughts, players were able to identify stressors, understand what response they triggered, and find alternative responses. Essentially, they were changing what they felt and thought about what made them stressed, and changed their responses to an encouraging one.
Initially, players would be offered alternatives to any negative trains of thought, changing their perspective. If a player thought “if I don’t play well, my team won’t make it to the next round”, they were encouraged to change that mindset to positive self-talk.
They were instructed to replace that with more helpful alternative responses, like, “if I play well, we will get closer to the finals.” Eventually, players would start correcting themselves and come up with their own alternatives to negative responses.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for athletes is a process, and it requires work, especially when anxiety is involved. At first, it seems hard to think of anxiety in a different light and not be consumed by it. With time, it becomes more and more natural for the person to identify their unhelpful thinking and replace it with positivity.
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What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or CBT for athletes?
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is described as a psychotherapeutic treatment rather than more traditional clinical support. It is meant to help people recognize negative thought patterns and change them. These negative thought patterns usually lead to destructive feelings, emotions, and behaviors.
In order to change said behavior, one has to go to the root of the problem, and that’s where CBT comes in as a form of athletic performance enhancement intervention. CBT for athletes is made of several techniques serving different purposes, all related to changing mindsets and behavior.
CBT will aid the person in identifying what could be considered automatic negative thoughts, which influence mood and mindset. These thoughts seem to be automatic and impulsive. But through CBT, people can discern said thoughts and restructure them into more realistic and positive self-talk. CBT techniques for anxiety modify the ramifications of anxiety-riddled thoughts into realistic, objective, and helpful outcomes.
The idea is to modify how stress influences the individual, turning challenges into desired performance outcomes to be achieved. CBT helps with two things that are very important when it comes to overcoming frustrations and expectations:
- Understanding people cannot control everything and everyone around them
- Realizing they can only control how they’ll perceive, interpret, and act upon said factors
It is a very goal-oriented treatment, as it is meant to help patients work towards something. In fact, therapists and patients will often pre-establish objectives as they work on and discuss CBT techniques.
Nevertheless, CBT can be used in order to treat mental health-related issues or to enhance athlete performance. Many sport psychology researchers and therapists will often recommend CBT techniques for anxiety, depression, stress, anger management, bipolar disorders, phobias, and many other disorders. Additionally, CBT is also often included in treatment programs for addiction and relapse prevention. Still, CBT should be paired with other treatment tools like therapy or medication-assisted treatment for long-term purposes.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Techniques For Anxiety And More
Amongst other things, CBT for athletes can be a useful tool to fight anxiety and its many effects. Multiple cognitive behavioral strategies for anxiety can be applied weekly or even daily, depending on your end goals.
Other techniques might be more effective if used during a therapy session. As mentioned, CBT techniques for anxiety or any disorders are a part of a treatment plan, not treated as a whole.
The aforementioned technique is an important part of CBT for athletes. It works by questioning and changing distortions in thinking, called cognitive distortions. These distortions are patterns that lead someone to think something wrong is real when it’s not.
Through this technique, the person will identify these distortions and figure out how to challenge their logic to disprove them. There are many ways to challenge these distortions, and that will depend on what it is about:
What is the worst thing that could happen? Asking yourself is a good way to see the risks more realistically. Sometimes, the fear triggered by anxiety does not match the level of the risk that’s being taken. Once you figure it out, try to think how bad it would be if that worst thing actually happened.
What are the chances of this happening? A lot of people tend to think of worst-case scenario situations, and even those might not be probable. What’s more, these possibilities might be so remote that you might be fearing something that will never happen.
Will this matter five years from now? Another great question to put things into perspective and lessen anxiety. This can be asked about the decision to be made and the possible repercussions as well. In some cases, it is possible to look back on choices made in the same timeframe and see how much they matter now. This CBT technique helps the person if they are not blowing the importance of a decision out of proportion.
What is this worth? Consider how much you are worried about this and how important it actually is in your life. Are you worrying too much about something you said? About something that’s even been fixed that made you feel bad before? You could be worrying about something from the past that didn’t make a difference in the long run. Or something that, in the future, will be a small detail.
Am I right about this? When battling anxiety and other disorders, people might jump to conclusions because they let their feelings escalate. This is meant to make you weigh all your evidence before presuming something.
There are a few cognitive behavioral strategies for anxiety meant to help make plans that are achievable and reasonable. Two of the most commonly mentioned ones are SMART and SOLVED techniques. They both use acronyms to make them easier to remember and apply when needed. The first describes what a goal should be; the latter are possible steps on how to come up with a solution.
The first one, SMART, stipulates that goals should be:
This makes the person take into consideration all their resources as they set a goal for themselves. Sometimes, frustration might come from expectations that are way too high or even impossible. This will save the person from setting a trap for themselves by expecting something they can’t achieve.
The second acronym, SOLVED, is often listed and reviewed with a counselor or a mental health expert:
Select the problem
Open your mind to all possible solutions (brainstorm what they are)
List the pros and cons you can think of for all potential solutions
Verify what solution is best in terms of feasibility and desirability
Enact the plan when possible
Decide whether the plan worked
Mindfulness Practice + Relaxation
CBT techniques for anxiety have borrowed from the mindfulness philosophy of mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness is focused on living in the now and not dwelling on what is negative. This can be achieved in many ways, and pairing it to relaxation practices can be very fruitful. There are many exercises which can be done every day, at your pace.
Breathing Exercises: There are many techniques to choose from depending on what is most comfortable for you.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): PMR requires tensing and releasing specific muscle groups at a time, meant to relax the ones that are tense due to anxiety.
Mindfulness Meditation: A most familiar exercise, the individual must try to clear their mind and focus solely on the feelings and emotions of the moment.
Guided Imagery Relaxation: A meditation technique where the person pictures places and situations that relax them. For those that might have a hard time completely clearing their mind, this helps them focus on positive, relaxing thoughts.
Learn More About Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
CBT for athletes can provide useful tools for the treatment of mental disorders and addiction. Professionals highly recommend teaching its techniques as a part of a treatment program. However, it can only be effective when all the bases for treatment are covered. CBT for athletes can make a difference, but it cannot treat anything by itself. Recovery for mental or addiction disorders requires a complete plan, and we have one for you.
We at Behavioral Health Centers can tell you more about its benefits along with the programs that we offer. There are licensed professionals waiting to give you the help that you need, no matter what step you are in your journey.
If you or a loved one would like to know more about CBT or treatment that implements CBT, contact us today.