How To Stay Calm Through Those Panic Attacks

Keep calm and race on!


There’s nothing worse than stepping up to your corral ready to run only to feel the anxiety, nerves and self doubt kick in. Whether it’s your first race or umpteenth, nerves will always kick in. Each race offers something new and challenging, which is scary yet exciting. You can tell yourself to relax and to stop thinking, but that anxiety feeling will kick in at some point. The secret to dealing with it is how you react to it. Instead of letting it take over your body (and ruin your hard work) accept it and let it help you run your best race yet!

Dr. Stephen Graef, a sports psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, shares one tactic to deal with panic attacks on race day: C.A.L.M. (connect, accept, label, manage).

C: Connect with the breath

When panic attacks kick in, your breathing becomes fast and it’s hard to grab a breath of air. Stop and focus on your breathing. You may want to adopt the yoga breathing technique Ujjayi, which is a diaphragmatic breath. It allows you to connect breathing to movement which helps increase energy, release stress and improve mental clarity.

A: Accept anxiety

“A big race is nerve-racking. And you know what? That’s ok! Don’t fight the anxiety—instead accept it,” says Dr. Graef. Welcome those nerves and use them to your advantage! Studies suggest that anxiety can help you perform faster if you stop focusing on how nervous you are. Mentally tell yourself that you’re nervous, put on some music to distract your brain, and breath (connect to breath). Before you know it, you’ll be running on pace and feeling confident in your stride.

L: Label

The physical symptoms of anxiety are very similar to the symptoms of excitement. Change your mindset. Inset of being scared, be pumped for the race. Try labeling your pre-race anxiety as pre-race excitement. That gives YOU the power and control of your performance.

M: Manage stress

Anxiety might seem to just happen on race day. However, you can proactively deal with stress on a day-to-day basis, which is going to help you feel more calm on race day. Each day practice breathing techniques that will keep panic attacks to a minimum. Study the course and accept that it will be challenging—have confidence that your training will take you to the finish line. Be aware that mishaps may happen—and it’s not the end of the world.