Anxiety in Debate: How to Cool Down Before the Round

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Heart racing, knees shaking, hands sweating, and a feeling of dread. Have you ever found yourself getting some of those sensations before a debate event? If so, no need to worry, almost everyone that has performed in Speech and Debate is familiar with these feelings. This anxiety can be identified as Performance Anxiety or Situational Anxiety. Situational Anxiety is hard to handle especially when you’re a debater. It can be difficult to shake off the feeling of dread or to calm down enough before a round so you can perform to the best of your ability. I myself still struggle with maintaining composure and scrounging up enough confidence in myself before I am about to debate. The tips I’ve gathered below are some I’ve heard from coaches, judges, and debaters. Hopefully, these tips that I’ve found helpful can help you calm down, feel confident, and put a little pep in your step on your way to your round.


DISCLAIMER: The tips I’ve listed below are calming techniques that I find to be helpful in combatting performance anxiety, as well as anxiety in general. But in no means are these tips meant to solve deeper mental health issues or replace the guidance of a professional. And remember that having some performance anxiety is a common occurrence and that it’s okay to feel anxious every once in a while. But if you find yourself to have recurring feelings of anxiousness (i.e. heart palpitations, sweaty palms, shaking, racing thoughts, etc.) please feel free to reach out or find a trusted adult to confide in. No matter how small it may seem, everyone deserves help with mental health, don’t be afraid to seek that help out.


1.Deep Breaths

Deep breathing. Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right. I’ve found that deep breathing can often be easier to say than do. During high anxiety situations, it can be challenging to stop yourself and focus on breathing. However, it can be a really helpful tactic to calm down when you’re stressed or anxious. The best way to engage in deep breathing exercises is to become fully aware of your anxiety and then slow your breathing. Once you’ve done that I recommend relaxing your shoulders or any tense muscles. While breathing in count to four, hold your breath for six, and then breathe out for eight. Remember to relax your muscles while you do this. This is helpful to slow down your heart rate and increase calmness.


2.Relaxation

Although it would be great to be able to have a meditation session before you perform, it’s quite unrealistic. Besides meditation, I have found that a great way to relax is to slowly untense your muscles. It’s a useful technique that works wonders and thankfully doesn’t take that much concentration. To start, take a few deep breaths and close your eyes when you feel comfortable enough to. Then start focusing on the tense muscles in your neck and slowly relax them. Then repeat the above steps until you reach your calves. After doing this exercise you should feel relaxed as the tension you were previously carrying will be erased.


3.Visualization

Another important way of helping relieve anxiety and preparing yourself for a performance is to visualize success. As mentioned before I think this technique works the best when you take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. After you get yourself in a sort of focused and relaxed state imagine doing an amazing performance. Visualization of yourself doing well can help ease anxiety and boost confidence!


4.Self Encouragement

Along with visualization, you should encourage yourself in as many ways as possible. Not only will this help with your overall confidence but it can help you relax a little and not feel so nervous. Using encouraging language directed at yourself, although it may sound silly, is helpful! For example, saying to yourself, “ I’ve got this”, “I’m more than capable of winning”, “ I’m well prepared”, and other self encouragements can be a real confidence booster! Try not to talk negatively towards yourself as that can make you, even more, self-conscious and anxious.


5.Surrounding Yourself with Friends

Positive vibes are important to be around in stressful situations. One of the best ways to get rid of negative feelings is to hang with some friends on your team. Not only is hanging out with friends a great way to relieve some anxiety but being with them is a healthy reminder that you have people to support you! Having a good time with friends at a tournament can turn a stressful situation into a more happy one.


In the end, what matters is that you feel proud of yourself and your accomplishments! Performance anxiety and anxiety, in general, is difficult to have without being in Debate. But hopefully, these tips will equip you with some skills that can help you conquer your anxieties and perform to the best of your abilities. Stay safe, give yourself some love, and remember that you’re not alone!


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Jade Buchanan

Parkview Magnet High Junior

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