Imagine playing a game for nearly a decade. Spending years of your life, focusing on training, sacrificing other opportunities, and growing as a player. Now a decade later, you have the opportunity to play one tournament for a chance at a life changing amount of money, a prize pool reaching over $10 Million, The International 4. For many of the players participating in The International 4, the event is the single most important tournament of their life. Placing first or second will net each player a life changing amount of money, further stabilizing their financial future. Not only are the stakes high, but they are playing these matches against the best players from around the globe and in front of millions of fans in the venue and online. If that isn’t enough to cause a person anxiety and discomfort, then I do not know what would.
Even though these players have a huge amount at stake and will feel anxious about it, it doesn’t mean that they are the only people who struggle with issues of anxiety in their lives. Anxiety is something that affects just about every person on the planet; the amount they feel is dependant on the person and a number of variables around it. The term “Ladder Anxiety” is something that many people toss around on various forum sites. Generally most people refer to it as the fear of playing ranked matches. For whatever the reason, having that MMR number or symbol attributed to the game, causes people to feel anxious over an activity that they should be having fun with.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom…altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility” – Soren Kierkegaard
The first step in overcoming issues of anxiety is to identify what the core root of the anxiety is. Anxiety can be defined as “the feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about an upcoming event or situation that has an uncertain outcome.” Whereas stress can be defined as “the state of emotional strain or tension resulting from an emotional event.” It is key to look at these two terms differently, because it will allow you to change and adjust your mindset. If a person is able to identify the area that is causing the most anxiety, then they will be able to address the reasons why and figure out strategies to cope with it. These are some of the more common sources of anxiety in a persons life:
- Event Importance: The more important an event, the more anxiety it will cause an individual. With important events, generally people want them to be successful so they feel very anxious due to the possibility of failure. A key to remember is that one event may be more or less important for each individual person. The International 4 may cause anxiety in a player, but also a player playing a ranked MMR match may feel the same anxiety. Anxiety is relative to the person feeling it, even though one of these events is more important than the other, it does not matter as it affects each person.
- Uncertainty: The more uncertainty, the more anxiety that will build up. Think back when you applied to a job or to a school, that uncertainty of if you were accepted or not will cause you a whole lot of anxiety. Not knowing when the phone call or letter may come, you are forced to wait weeks as your anxiety increases. If you are told “We will call you July 31st about the job offer” a person may still feel anxious, though they know by that date they will have an answer which causes them to feel a bit more settled.
- Personal Sources of Stress: If a person has a lot of personal things going on, it all builds up. If you are having problems at work, fighting with your spouse, or have a major exam coming up, all of these areas are sources of stress. This stress will be carried over into the other aspects of your life.
- Trait Anxiety: Some people are just more anxious in every aspect of their life than others. There is nothing wrong with this, they just need to recognize it as such and take measures to compensate for it.
- Self-Esteem: Low self-esteem leads to low confidence, which leads to more anxiety. A person with low self-esteem will always be second guessing their decisions and expecting things to go wrong. This causes a lot lot of anxiety due to always expecting to fail.
- Social Physique Anxiety: When a person is anxious due to another person judging them about something. In sport this may be a person’s physical appearance or their athletic ability. In Dota this can be a person’s skill with a particular hero or their MMR rating.
“Problems are not the problem, coping is the problem” – Virginia Satir
Once a person is able to locate the sources of anxiety in their lives, then they can begin to figure out a gameplan to fix them. Every human being will experience anxiety, the key is to figure out the best way to cope with it and to not let it affect all aspects of one’s life. The way I like to approach anxiety regulation is with a simple formula of “BED-BED.” Be positive, exercise, don’t catastrophize, be confident, eat healthy, and don’t binge! (It is very corny I know, but it helps people remember how to take care of themselves!) These are very basic things that a person can apply to their own lives. They will allow a person to put themselves in the best possible situation in order to withstand the anxiety they are feeling in their own life. Think of them as preventive measures, things that need to be accomplished before the actual anxiety provoking event happens.
- Be Positive: There is always a bright side. Try to look at every situation as a lesson and learn something from it. Even in the worst cases, there is always a lesson to be learned for the future.
- Exercise: Exercise is empirically proven to help increase happiness, self confidence, and give people more energy.
- Don’t Catastrophize: Losing a game of Dota doesn’t mean the end of the world. Even most events that happen in a persons life are never the end of the world. Sure they may be difficult, but the sun always comes back up the next day. Learn
- Be Confident: As long as a person properly prepares for their event, then they need to walk into the situation with their head held high and give it their best shot. Lay it all out on the table and whatever happens, happens. People should not let their anxiety cause their efforts to be diminished.
- Eat Healthy: What a person puts into their body will affect the way their body feels. If bad food goes in, they will feel depressed and sluggish. If a person eats healthy, then they will feel more energetic.
- Don’t Binge: Too much of anything is going to be bad. If a person plays too much Dota, it may mean they are neglecting other areas of their life. Balance across all aspects of a persons life is healthy and a necessity in reducing anxiety.
The third and final step in confronting anxiety is utilizing the number of strategies that can reduce anxiety in the moment. If a person figures out what is causing their anxiety, and then takes care of themselves so that they are feeling their best, then strategies such as these will lower the physiological and mental side effects of anxiety during the events. Think of these strategies as things that a person can do during the situation. It doesn’t matter if it is when a ranked Dota match is starting or during a major exam, these things will help people calm down and regulate their feelings.
- Deep Breathing: Probably the most common and easiest strategy to implement. A person needs to take a deep breath and focus on their inhale and exhale as the air passes through their lungs. Sometimes one good deep breath will do, other times a simple countdown from 10 will get a person’s anxiety level down. This strategy works best for event importance, uncertainty, personal sources of stress, and trait anxiety.
- Visualize: This is the activity of a person closing their eyes and seeing themselves achieve their goals. It doesn’t matter if a person is running a marathon or dominating the middle lane, they need to visualize themselves do it beforehand. Visualizing will allow people to reduce the feelings of uncertainty.
- Self-Talk: This is a fantastic skill to use in all aspects of life. Self-talk is a way for a person to talk themselves through a difficult event. Simple phrases as “This anxiety will pass” or “I can do this” may sound silly, but they can really help a person calm down and refocus on what they are trying to achieve. This strategy will help people who are struggling with event importance, trait anxiety, and confidence issues.
- Muscle Relaxation: The strategy of muscle relaxation is unique due it it being physically based as opposed to mentally. This technique is focused on tightening various muscle groups. To do this strategy a person must first squeeze the muscles they are targeting, as tight as they can. While squeezing they take a deep breath with a good inhale and then on the exhale, they slowly release the muscles. This whole process should take 5-10 seconds max and the feeling of relation should be instantaneous. This strategy is best used for event importance, personal sources of stress, or events in which physical activity will be used.
- For Example: Starting with the feet, squeeze and tighten the muscles in the foot, take a deep breath, then release. Move onto the muscles in the legs, next abdomen, then both arms, followed by hands and neck.
- Think Logical, Not Emotional: Don’t get caught up in the emotion and adrenaline during important events. There is a time and place to be emotional, however, when optimal focus is needed a person cannot afford to worry about their emotions. A good way to maintain logical thinking is to think about a few simple mathematical problems such as 2 +2 = 4 and 1 + 4 = 5. This keeps the brain focused on logic and helps minimize the thoughts of emotion.
The main thing to take away from anxiety and its effects on human beings, is that anxiety is a very important part of life. Every person on this planet experiences anxiety in their day to day lives. Rather than trying to avoid the anxiety or remove the anxiety, try to embrace the anxiety as an important part of life. Without anxiety in our lives, people would not be driven to take chances and to strive to make themselves better. Risks would not be taken because people would would want to avoid the uncertainty. Humans would not want to partake in wonderful events such as The International 4 because of the large importance of it. Without anxiety, we are really not human beings because it is such a core tenet of life. This is why I propose that people need to set themselves up to have success during anxiety provoking experiences, which is why these three areas are key. If a person can identify what is causing their anxiety, take precautions before the event, and then use strategies to battle the anxiety during the event, they will have all the tools to be extremely successful.
– MJ “Finch”
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