As anyone who's struggled with anxiety can attest, the pressure we put on ourselves far outweighs whatever pressure truly exists in life. That's because the human mind is capable of creating expectations that are unfair and scenarios that are unlikely, which together instill a fear that failure is imminent and embarrassment is possible.
It's not something we choose to feel either. It's just a part of who anxiety sufferers are, and it becomes a challenge that must be faced to overcome those thoughts and those fears.
It's a battle that's fought by people from all walks of life, including professional athletes. That's something new Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.P. Arencibia can attest to, because his battle with anxiety nearly derailed his career in baseball. Arencibia revealed his battle to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer, stating that his career began to unravel after becoming overwhelmed by the pressure he was putting on himself to succeed.
"I was driving to the ballpark filled with anxiety to not fail," Arencibia is quoted as saying. "I was on deck many times, where I hoped that the guy in front of me gets it done, so I'm not the one that fails."
You might think professional athletes would be equipped to handle such feelings, but they are not immune. In fact, they may be more susceptible. Real pressures do exist when your job performance is analyzed by millions, and overwhelming feelings of doubt can manifest when that performance is thrown back in your face. It's a dream job for most, but it's a greater challenge when the expectations you must live up are more than just your own.
Early in his career, Arencibia raised those expectations by flashing some promise as a power-hitting backstop. Between 2011-2013, he delivered 64 home runs as a member the Toronto Blue Jays. He's never been a great average hitter though, and that capped his upside offensively.
Prior to the 2014 season, Arencibia moved on from Toronto, signing as a free agent with the Texas Rangers. By May of that season, he was down in the minor leagues. A slow start on a new team had amplified anxieties that already existed, and in the process his passion for the game dwindled as his thoughts overpowered his natural abilities.
To his credit though, Arencibia did not allow his anxiety to get the best of him for long. After being demoted, he sought the aid of a sports psychologist and together they searched for answers he could not find on his own.
Being sent down, Arencibia said, was the best thing that happened to his career. He met with a sports psychologist. He saw a psychiatrist, who took Arencibia off Adderall, a cognitive enhancer used to treat ADHD. Arencibia said the medication contributed to his anxiety.
His new medication - Lexapro - is an antidepressant that is also used to treat ADHD. Arencibia said he feels free. When bad things happen, he can let them pass.
"I was battling my own demons," Arencibia said. "Ultimately I just fought those demons off and said. 'You know what, I'm just going to enjoy it.' I'm not getting shot at. I don't have cancer. You back away from baseball and say why was I putting so much pressure on myself that I couldn't even enjoy one of the biggest blessings?"
As someone who has also battled anxiety, I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who can take that challenge head-on. It's not a battle that's easily won, because it's not a battle that's ever truly over. But it doesn't have to define you or limit you.
Now, as a new season approaches, Arencibia feels confident that he's overcome his anxiety, or at least managed it to the point where his focus won't be limited. He's rediscovered his passion for baseball as well, and hopes this personal with lead to an opportunity in Philadelphia. Nothing is guaranteed, but he's prepared to roll with the punches and continue putting in the work that's necessary.
"I wake up in the morning. I have my coffee. I come here, and I just try to be a light anywhere I am," Arencibia said. "Try to be good to people. Try to make people feel better. Try to have fun with these guys. And if I make this team, I make this team. If I don't, I don't. But I'm going to enjoy it every step of the way."
You can read more about Arencibia's story over at Philly.com. It's well worth your time.
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