We tend to think of anxiety as a bad thing—stopping us from hanging out with friends or keeping our minds racing when all we want to do is sleep. Anxiety feels like a burden, but in a personal essay in Sports Illustrated, Olympic wrestler Helen Maroulis explains how the disorder actually helped her win gold in Rio:
Before the opening ceremonies, I was pinned. My journal entry read:
“I can’t stop crying. I’m making myself sick. For the first time in my life, I explained to Terry [my Coach] what my anxiety was like. What it felt like to be afraid of irrational things. I was always afraid to tell him, because I was afraid he wouldn’t think I was mentally capable of a gold medal. And at the Olympics, I didn’t want to look weak.
He said that I was strong to reach out and talk to him. He also said when we are hyper-sensitive to everything, it’s our bodies way of preparing for battle.”
He was right.
Maroulis’s story isn’t meant to downplay the seriouness of anxiety, but rather show the advantages it can bring (so long as you deal with it in a healthy way, like she did):
My journey brought me to a definitive realization: We live in an illusion that champions are fearless, and that any admission to the contrary is defined as weakness…
There’s a stigma that only tough girls wrestle. There’s a stigma that only fearless people win. Yet here I stand in front of you. In front of our country. In front of the world—distinguished by my gold—and by the overwhelming feeling that all of my fears and all of my anxieties in that moment rolled down my body with every tiny bead of sweat, one by one.