Sports Addiction & Anxiety: What's The Connection?

Sports addiction and anxiety

If you exercise excessively, you may have anxiety issues. Here's how to recover.

In cases of excessive exercising, a person treats their own body as an object rather than as a subject (i.e., they experience themselves as "you" instead of "I"). This objectification of the self allows one to feel a sense of control regarding some aspect of oneself, or one's relationships with others, that otherwise seems out of control. This control can be exerted and maintained by manipulating the body in conditioning exercise or other sport participation.

What causes excessive exercise?

Over-participation in sports can be caused by a variety of factors, but it generally consolidates around two functions:

1. Lack of capacity for emotional regulation. This happens when certain emotional capacities haven't been developed or break down under excessive stress and anxiety. Emotional regulation is the capacity to perceive early indications of emotions, label emotions, detect changes in the quality and quantity of emotions, generate meaning from emotions, verbally express emotions, modulate the impact emotion has on behavior, and use emotions effectively to influence behavior in a productive way.

2. Escape from difficult experiences. People use physical activity to escape from difficult internal or external experiences, such as anxiety, anger, dependency, urges, traumatic memories, and the like, so they don't have to regulate them. This process is called experiential avoidance, or the attempt to avoid, escape from, or change internal experiences such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, physical sensations, and more. This is a normal, but generally ineffective, process that most people engage in in some capacity. It's "normal" because it's a mode of thinking that emphasizes problem-solving in the external world. For example, if you get a flat tire, you fix it. This "doing mode" has facilitated human evolution due to its vigilant, protective, and creative functions. Thus, it makes sense that we would apply the same principles to internal experiences that are "problematic," such as anxiety, depression, and anger.

Empirical and clinical data suggest that when these problem-solving strategies are applied to the internal world of the mind, they are usually ineffective. They may work in the short term, but they usually drain a person's life of the potential for meaning and vitality. Developing experiential acceptance, however, allows clients to experience troubling emotions without needing to avoid or change them. This is an important aspect of treatment. This process frees up a person's psychological resources to approach emotions curiously and non-judgmentally, such that the meaning of the emotions can be explored without needing to act on them. Subsequently, the client is able to focus on what he or she values most instead of, for example, "avoiding anxiety." Then, a person can respond to internal experiences less impulsively and more reflectively. This allows for more effective behaviors and living a life with meaning, purpose, and vitality. Keep reading...

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