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For Parents Help with gym meet anxiety

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LJL07

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Hoping to get some parent perspective or advice. My two daughters have been doing gym for quite a while now. Both are well into optionals now, and you would think I would be calm at meets after all this time. I am the type of person who has always been pretty anxious at gym meets or just any kind of evaluation situation where a child is "in the spotlight" by themselves. We had several years of a very bad coaching/gym situation that really heightened my anxiety. For example, after one meet that was not spectacular but was hardly a failure, our family had planned to spend the rest of the weekend doing a mini vacation. My daughter had a minor issue on beam and the coach pretty much went crazy and tried to demand that we cancel our vacation and get my daughter back in the gym. I remember crying and feeling incredibly anxious about this for most of the weekend. There were quite a few similar instances during this time. So as silly as this may sound, I think I might be a little traumatized. The girls are now in a much healthier environment. I am still struggling big time with the meets. After two sessions (sometimes they are back to back now that my younger one is in optionals), I just feel completely drained and like I have been through a marathon. The issue is that after all of this time my husband says it pains him to see me so anxious all weekend over gym meets. So now he prefers to take them by himself. He is a calm and easy going person and the girls do great around him. Or, he said I should take them by myself. I know it won't kill me to go by myself, but like I said, I am kind of a wreck by the end of the weekend. Even if they do great, I still feel incredibly drained. It has kind of turned into a weird phobia. I know logically this is completely ridiculous, but I have actual panic-like symptoms. I tried to explain to him that it is sort of like a person with a phobia of flying. I can't reason myself out of it. We have an out of state meet this weekend, and I am just not sure what to do. I thought we would all go together but he said he would prefer to either take them himself or have me take them by myself. Has anyone experienced this? Should we ask the girls what their preference is?
 

Rockygym

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So sorry to hear about this. I would not ask your girls as it really at this point is more of a issue with you (and I think you best described it as a social phobia). I think you have to ask yourself what is best for you and your family for the upcoming meet weekend and then for the future maybe think about counseling to work on developing coping strategies. Hugs and best of luck.
 
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twinmomma

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I'm anxious during meets so I've found that taking photographs (my passion) helps with that. It helps me focus on something other than her performance. I actually think you going alone is a great suggestion, because you won't have the calmer parent there to be the fallback. You will have to find your way through it for the sake of your girls. I know you know this, but you have to find a way to let go - this is their sport, and your nerves don't help them at all. I do a lot of the travel with my daughter alone and I just have to find a way to be the calm one. Sometimes jumping into the deep end helps. Good luck - I really do know what you're feeling.
 
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mommyof1

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I actually think you going alone is a great suggestion, because you won't have the calmer parent there to be the fallback.

... or to fuel your anxiety. I find it much easier to attend meets alone than with my husband. He gets mad at me for being on edge, I try to convince him that my feelings are valid and there are good reasons to be nervous, and things escalate from there. He also has his own hang-ups about meets that he won't acknowledge are over the top--he is overly worried about being on time and about getting our daughter to eat enough before the meet--and I have to act as a buffer between him and our gymmie to protect her against his anxiety and frustration when she doesn't move fast enough or eat enough to meet his expectations. If only one parent goes, everyone is happier and more relaxed.
 
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bookworm

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I was always a nervous wreck for the entire time my girls were in the sport....from level 4 through 4 years of NCAA so I totally get it. I never ate until they were done on the day of a meet and that helped me know that I wasn't going to heave at the venue because my stomach was empty ...and surprisingly, that calmed me a little. It was somewhat unpleasant for all the years they were level 10 because they were typically in the last session of the evening, so by then , I was ready to eat your arm off.

I did find that staying off by myself, versus sitting with other parents, or even my husband , helped . I took them to most regular season meets alone and my girls knew how I was but they were fine with it. I think as long as you can get a handle on how to deal with your nervousness , whether it be walking around, hanging by yourself, sitting in the lobby and literally just poking your head in when they compete, you should still try to attend. I did do the filming during the event so that also was a nice distraction.
 

Gymx2

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I get it. I have a lot of meet anxiety and with two in the sport it equals a lot of meets. On DD's team there is one other mom who is very similar to me and we often sit together and share our nerves- it sounds like it shouldn't be helpful being with someone else so anxious, but it makes me feel less alone. My husband doesn't get it at all- no meet anxiety for him, so sometimes I find it easier without him there, while other times he helps calm me down. What I try to do as much as possible it to keep in mind how fortunate we are to have healthy kids who are able to compete in a sport they love, and that no matter how the meet goes we are lucky to be there (this helps some, but logic and emotion aren't always in sync).
 

LJL07

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Thanks all for the suggestions. I think it is time to do some kind of therapy or self-help to at least reduce some of the anxiety for sure. @mommyof1 my husband just is not fazed by gym meets. He films, he watches the warm-ups, and he handles all of it with no problem. So it makes my anxiety worse when he acts dismissive and just doesn't seem to get how I could be so anxious that I become completely zoned out. The photography idea is a good one, but I become so paralyzed I usually can't film with my phone even. I think the parts that make me the most anxious are the getting ready and out of the door prep part and then the warm ups on each event (the warm up anxiety has gotten progressively worse especially with some of the higher level skills my older daughter is now doing on bars and beam. And even floor. I guess all 4 of the events really now). I think watching by myself is a good idea and feels more tolerable than being with anyone else. I'm really not fit to be around other people during meets, but I guess I felt like stepping outside during the warm ups if I am the only family member there might hurt the girls' feelings. On the other hand, as @bookworm said about her daughters, my girls and I talked a little this afternoon and they definitely know how I am and seem to both understand it doesn't have anything to do with them personally. I guess I just thought after all of this time, it would get better, not worse, and that does not seem to be the case.
 

LJL07

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I get it. I have a lot of meet anxiety and with two in the sport it equals a lot of meets. On DD's team there is one other mom who is very similar to me and we often sit together and share our nerves- it sounds like it shouldn't be helpful being with someone else so anxious, but it makes me feel less alone. My husband doesn't get it at all- no meet anxiety for him, so sometimes I find it easier without him there, while other times he helps calm me down. What I try to do as much as possible it to keep in mind how fortunate we are to have healthy kids who are able to compete in a sport they love, and that no matter how the meet goes we are lucky to be there (this helps some, but logic and emotion aren't always in sync).
Yep! I used to have a good friend, and we would sort of weather the meets together. I think it helped for sure, but there is so much attrition in the sport that I am really pretty much on my own now.
 

Gymx2

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I don't watch warm-ups at all and that helps- I just talk to other parents during that time. Oh, and I also remembered that last year at States I sat next to a dad who was far and away the most anxious gym parent I've seen. He was so physically uncomfortable, kept shifting, actually groaning out loud even during warm ups, and covering his eyes that I felt really bad for the guy. He told me that he usually left during his daughter's routines because he gets so nervous, but the stands were really packed it would have been hard for him to get out. At one point I was afraid he was going to get sick. I think of that guy now when I'm nervous and remind myself that a. it's normal for parents to be anxious for their kids, and b. I am not quite as bad as that guy! :p
 

duyetanh

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I was always a nervous wreck, I never ate until they were done on the day of a meet and that helped me know that I wasn't going to heave at the venue because my stomach was empty ...and surprisingly, that calmed me a little. It was somewhat unpleasant for all the years they were level 10 because they were typically in the last session of the evening, so by then , I was ready to eat your arm off.
Omg. This is me. I didn’t know there was anyone else like this out there. I seriously can’t eat. I would barf.
 

PinPin

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I am sorry that you go through this. Be kind to yourself and accept that it is not necessarily something that you can control. That said, there are lots of options for counselling. Maybe try one or more and see if it helps. Full disclosure: My ODD recently started to get really bad panic attacks and we have not yet been able to figure out what triggers it, but we will keep on trying... She started to take meds to calm her down plus a soluble one to take when the attacks happen.
 

gymnastmom05

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Oh man, I find myself having bad anxiety during the meet (and probably leading up to starting the night before). The worry over enough sleep (we have been the lucky people this season with sessions first thing in the morning and far enough away we have to get a hotel) with the entire family in a hotel room, getting up on time, making sure she has enough food (she is an absolute disaster mentally when her blood sugar drops), getting to the venue on time. I was always anxious but last season ended in a complete disaster on her best event. Now I feel that I can't relax for ANY of the events. I try to eat but honestly I run out of time taking care of her and the thought of eating during the meet just sounds repulsive. I'm trying to not watch warm ups and just talk to people sitting around me so I don't "see". I definitely don't move from my spot. For some reason I just sit, in the same spot without moving the entire meet. After it's over, my head is pounding. I love watching her and I love watching the videos but while it's occurring I'm shaking like a leaf! I do record her routines with my phone to help give me something to do while she's on her event. I try to focus on keeping her in the frame so I have some sort of goal to keep my mind on. I did much better this last meet. The meet before, the video was up and down and she was swinging her giants and I was moving along like I was going to keep her going in the right direction! Anyway, I understand what you're dealing with. I don't tell my daughter how much it stresses me out. After the last meet I declared I was taking some ibuprofen and a power nap as soon as we got home. I have a feeling the stress headache will haunt me until she's done with this sport. I once had a parent tell me I had no idea what it was like to watch your kid in a race (running, on a flat surface) and the anxiety over how they would finish. I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes. Yea lady that's unbearable. How about watching your kid running as fast as they can at a stationary object and then flipping their body over it? Tumbling on a 4 inch piece of wood, 4 ft off the ground? Swinging around on bars multiple feet off the ground and then letting go and flipping? I have no idea what that's like. We'll also ignore the fact that my kid barely has a life outside of training year round so in my mind, the outcome means even more...anyway that's an entire different topic. I have no guidance to give other than you are not alone!
 

CuriousCate

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I didn't read all the replies, so I apologize if this is repetitive. Can you identify what you are most anxious about? Is it their performances and scores? Or about the danger and potential for injury?

I found myself getting really nervous over the former...the fact that they have so few chances to "prove" their skills to whom, I don't know. Would the coaches not keep moving them up? Would they end up being able to get to level 10 "early enough". Etc etc etc.

What ended up changing it for me was my older kid moving to a less intense gym last year and pretty consistently scoring much lower. After a few times, I began to realize that even if she gets upset, she gets over it within a day and heads right on back to practice. And I realized that none of the other parents treated me any differently. None of the other kids treated her differently. And the coaches kept right on coaching. And she keeps right on competing. And even though I still get nervous for her (like really nervous), simply because I want her to show off everything she has worked for, like all of us do, I don't get that same level of anxiety.

I sort of had to reframe all of it. I keep asking myself "So what if she doesn't score well? So what?" "So what if she never gets to level 10? So what?" "So what if she quits tomorrow? So what?" In the end, will any of this shift the trajectory of her life so dramatically that it warrants my anxiety level?

Now if the anxiety is related to the risk, well, there, I've got nothing!
 

Mish

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I think so many of us have the same issues. I know that I cannot talk to people too much during a meet because my craziness will come out for sure. I kind of just walk around, poke my head in when she competes, make small talk if necessary in between and text with my former gym moms (we recently switched gyms) who know the drill. I don't really even talk to my husband because invariably there is some kind of bickering. We get through...

I think trying to spend some time just walking around at meets and deep breathing can help a lot!

On another note, I want to add that I am so happy that this thread resulted in lots of support for the OP and not "judgy" advice about how this is their sport and you just have to let it go. It seems that some threads have been going that way, and I am glad this one did not. :)
 

CLgym

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Couple of thoughts -- I think it's perfectly fine to stay home if your husband is more relaxed and your girls do better with him. It's pretty hard not to project our anxiety onto our kids (and not just at gymnastics meets). They pick up everything! There are a few families at our gym that send dad for this very reason. And most families at our gym have only one parent at meets because of siblings with other commitments, or for cost reasons (travel).

If you are the one to go, then I second (or third) the idea of watching by yourself. This year I have found it helps to walk around a bit by myself. I will sit and chat with the other parents when we arrive, but then prefer to move around once the meet starts. I don't make an effort to watch warm-ups. And if you haven't already, stop tracking / writing down scores, etc.

I think @CuriousCate's point about figuring out the primary cause of the anxiety is a good one. In my case, I felt my DD had to prove herself with a good performance/scores. Like you, we had a negative gym experience that contributed to my feelings (they told me DD would not be a successful JO gymnast -- so I somehow felt that she had to prove them wrong). But ultimately these feelings were way more about me, then my DD (who is perfectly able to brush off a fall or bad score). This year she is having a terrible season. Falls, mistakes, low scores. But guess what? I have survived some pretty rough meets. And so has she. In fact, my DD recently said, "Now that I'm doing so bad at meets, they are actually really fun again." She has taken off the pressure. I am trying to follow her lead.
 

bookworm

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Contrary to popular belief, I never felt the need to figure out the cause of my distress ... it was the competing and the watching and there was zero I could do about that so I learned the best way to prep myself for the duration... not eating , empty stomach, stay away from others , pace ....might not be a strategy for others but it worked for 17 years for me.

And here’s a funny twist , the meet where I COULD eat and relax was at JO Nationals..... they had made it and there was nothing riding on it so I was good .
 

Madden3

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I cannot give you advice about this weekend, because it will take time to approach this issue. Personally if my husband were willing to take my kids on an out of town trip I would stay home and enjoy that time to myself!

But if you want to go for the family experience, maybe go on the trip but not to the meets?

More long term, I suggest find a therapist who understands how to use cognitive behavioral therapy for approaching anxiety. Assertiveness training might help you as well. (I am thinking your anxiety might be fueled in part by a fear of another run in with an unreasonable coach and if you know you have the tools to handle that possible situation better, that might help.)

It is natural to want to avoid what makes you anxious, but ultimately that is not a solution, that is a problematic coping mechanism likely to cement your anxious thinking and possibly increase the likelihood you will to begin to use avoidance in other areas of your life. Nothing wrong with your husband taking the girls to meets, but what if he unexpectedly cannot do that and you have to step up? Better to do the internal work needed so you can begin to tolerate or even enjoy meets.

There are many workbooks, videos, etc. to help people learn to handle better those situations that cause them anxiety. So if you cannot find a therapist, that is another option. Just vet the sources well.

It is very hard for others to understand and be sympathetic about feelings of extreme anxiety because while they are very real and debilitating to the sufferer, they are not rational. I imagine your husband cannot reason you out of your feelings so he feels frustrated and helpless. Once you understand your anxiety better yourself, you might try to teach him what he can do- what helps and what does not.
 

mommyof1

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For me the sources of meet anxiety in the past have been the feeling that my daughter needs to prove herself to the gym, and the worry that if she doesn't do her best or doesn't score well her self-confidence will be destroyed.

For her first four competitive seasons, my daughter was at what I slowly came to recognize as a high-pressure gym, and the first worry was very legitimate. Now that we've moved her to a low-pressure gym, I'm looking forward to seeing whether that makes meets any easier to watch. (I didn't attend her first meet, but had a surprisingly easy time waiting for the videos and scores.) It's a lot easier to let scores and medals go when you know that your kid's future training opportunities are based on the work she does in practice and not on what happens at a meet.

Re. the second worry, that gets better as they get older and more mature. And a positive gym environment helps there too.
 
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