Feature | Swimming

Olympic medallist Markus Rogan: How to deal with anxiety

Four-time swimming Olympian-turned-sports psychologist shares his suggestions for coping with anxiety and how to stay positive

By Olympic Channel ·

How do you deal with anxiety? That's one of the biggest questions people have.

There's no better person to answer that question than Markus Rogan, a double Olympic silver medallist in swimming at Athens 2004 who knows all about the pressures of elite sport, and is also now a professional sports psychologist.

Since retiring from competition in 2012, the Austrian has gone on to serve as Brazil's director of performance psychology at their home Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Here are Rogan's top tips and recommendations on how to handle anxiety, which he shared with Athlete365.

Markus Rogan of the Austria Olympic swimming team carries his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Anxiety tip #1: Growing through anxiety

Rogan suggests channelling anxiety into growing – not just physical or athletic growth as may be the case for Olympians, but also personal growth.

Aside from growth leading to achievements, the Austrian says, "other ways of growing are important, too.

"One is in relationships with others, be it with your coach, a loved one or your family. We think those relationships are unimportant, that they're really just peripheral characters and we are the main show," he points out.

"Of course, everyone's going to be there for you when you're amazing. It's easy to surround yourself with people when you're amazing, but maybe you can explore relationships with those who are there with you when you're down."

Anxiety tip #2: Face tough questions

The 38-year-old says facing the tough questions instead of avoiding them can be helpful when dealing with anxiety.

Rogan's top question to ask yourself is "What's next?"

"You will ask yourself questions like: Do I have enough money? Do I have enough brainpower? Do I have enough 'anything' that will help me for the rest of my life?

"Those are very normal, and I suggest you don't run away from those questions," Rogan says.

Rather, he advises confronting these worries head-on.

He says: "Ask yourself: Why am I asking myself this? Are these questions founded or am I making them up?"

Anxiety tip #3: Ask for second and third opinions

The way to start growing as a person is simple, according to Rogan:

"You figure out the areas in your life that you've neglected, and you do that with an honest person and you sit down and say: 'What do you know about me that I don't know?'"

As he points out, "people see in us what we don't see or don't want to see at all times".

"If you sit down with someone and say, 'Tell me something about me that you might feel like I'm afraid to hear', then that's your starting point.

"The simple ones are motivation, there is focus, there is resilience, there's dealing with failure, there's dealing with anxiety… There's a lot of different things that you could work on."

Anxiety tip #4: Don't ignore your thoughts

"It's not easy, but you need to have the courage to realise when you are feeling anxious, and then you can start working on it," Rogan says.

Choosing to gloss over or disregard symptoms only makes things worse, he advises.

"Facing them helps you to come alive.

"Anxiety about illness, your career or your training is a vital guidepost. If you're anxious it means that your body and mind is telling you something important."

However, Rogan adds it's important not to treat what's going on in your head as the final truth.

"The key thing is realising that your thoughts are just neuro-chemical signals," he says, "and not truth.

"Don't forget that even the most profound thought is still just a thought."

Taking this mindset, he says, means "you take yourself less seriously and it positively affects the way you deal with perceived bad news."