I often work with young swimmers who struggle with anxiety. Anxiety is a common condition that can affect a child's ability to perform well in swimming, as well as in other areas of life. That's why it's important for parents to be able to spot signs of anxiety in their children and offer support when needed. You might be surprised but most parents and young people have a difficult time identifying anxiety within themselves and their children.
So, what are some signs that your child may be experiencing anxiety when it comes to swimming? Well, first of all, if your child is constantly worrying about their swimming performance, even in situations that seem trivial or beyond their control, it could be a sign of anxiety. They might worry about things like their technique, their race times, or even whether they will be able to make friends on their swim team. Excessive worry is often a sign that a child's anxiety levels are elevated.
Anxiety can also manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, tightness in chest, difficulty breathing and fatigue. If your child complains about these kinds of symptoms often, it may be worth exploring whether anxiety is playing a role. Do your best to note how often your child has somatic systems. The body keeps score so take notes of when, where and the duration of these symptoms.
Another sign of anxiety in swimmers is experiential avoidance. If your child starts to avoid swimming-related activities or situations that they used to enjoy, such as going to practice or competing in meets, or team socials, it may be a sign that their anxiety is getting the best of them. This could also be an indicator of depression so be mindful of their avoidant behaviors.
Mood swings and irritability can also be symptoms of anxiety. If your child seems more irritable than usual or has sudden mood swings, it might be a good idea to check in with them about how they're feeling. We often see males mask their anxiety with irritability and anger. Consider noting when your child becomes irritable. On side note, we see this in parents and coaches as well.
Furthermore, anxiety can also affect a child's ability to get a good night's sleep. They may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or have nightmares related to swimming or other areas in their life. Keep an eye on their sleep and wake cycles.
Also, your swimmer might have nutritional and vitamin deficiencies and might need to take some supplements. The gut biome, "the second brain", often contributes to elevated levels of anxiety. Do some research and see if your child has any gut health issues contributing to their anxiety. Also, add some research on parasite cleanses. These are areas many parents neglect to explore with a medical expert.
Finally, maybe your swimmer is dealing with social anxiety. Social anxiety can be a challenging experience for children, and it can make social situations feel overwhelming and stressful. However, it's important to understand that social anxiety is a common issue that many people struggle with, and there are ways to help children manage their anxiety and feel more comfortable in social situations.
One approach that can be helpful is to encourage children to practice social skills in a low-pressure environment. This might involve setting up small social situations with a few close friends or family members, where the child can work on their conversation skills and practice being in social situations without feeling overwhelmed. Role-playing can also be helpful in building confidence and reducing anxiety.
It can also be helpful to work with the child to challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs about social situations. For example, if a child believes that everyone will judge them harshly if they say something wrong, it can be helpful to explore whether this belief is accurate, and to consider alternative perspectives. This can help to reduce the child's anxiety and build their confidence. Mind you, children who struggle with social anxiety have a deep fear of being judged.
Again, anxiety is not problematic until it starts to hinder them from living a vital life and accomplishing their daily tasks and routines. It is helpful to see anxiety as a communicator. What is the anxiety trying to tell you or your child? Is there a threat, real or perceived? Help your child get to know their anxiety and continue to provide a supportive environment. Don't be afraid to seek out professional help if you notice anxiety becoming problematic in your swimmer's life.