“Catalyst” Examines Athletic Performance Anxiety


ON "CATALYST" THIS WEEK, A LOOK AT HOW SCIENCE CAN HELP ATHLETES, SPECIFICALLY THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM SEVERE PERFORMANCE ANXIETY. WHAT IF THERE WERE A DEVICE THAT COULD HELP MANAGE STRESS AND ALLEVIATE ANXIETY, IT WOULD BE HUGE FOR COMPETITIVE ATHLETES, BUT WOULD IT BE FAIR TO USE IN COMPETITION? VANESSA RUIZ REPORTS.

PKG: IT'S A VERY SIMPLE SPORT THAT WE MAKE VERY DIFFICULT BECAUSE WE GET IN OUR OWN WAY. YOU ARE GOING TO PULL AN ARROW OUT OF YOUR QUIVER AND KNOCK IT, PLACE YOUR FINGERS ON THE STRING AND YOUR HAND ON THE BOW, THEN YOU ARE GOING TO LIFT THE BOW AND DRAW TO YOUR ANCHOR. AT THE POINT YOU ARE AT FULL DRAW AND STARTING TO EXPAND AND THE SITE IS ON THE TARGET, JUST BE. JUST BE. WHEN YOU SHOOT AN AMAZING ARROW, IT'S JUST THIS GREAT FEELING OF BEING IN THE ZONE, AND YOU CAN'T -- YOU KNOW, THERE'S NOTHING LIKE IT.

THE PERFECT ARROW CAN BE VERY DIFFICULT TO SHOOT, EVEN IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE BEST ARCHERS IN THE WORLD.

I WAS AT THE '81 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, AND THE WOMAN THAT WON WAS RUSSIAN. AND ALL OF THIS EMOTION CAME OUT, LIKE I WANT TO SHOW YOU. AND I TOTALLY FAILED. THAT'S THE FIRST MEMORY I CAN HAVE OF TARGET PANIC. TARGET PANIC IS THE WORST FORM OF GETTING IN YOUR OWN WAY. THE EGO IS TRYING TO SO HARD, AND IT'S HUGE AND IT'S FLASHING, AND WHEN YOU GET UP THERE TO SHOOT THE ARROW, IT -- YOUR MIND JUST BLOCKS. SOMETIMES I WAS IN CHARGE. OTHER SOMETIMES I WASN'T.

WHETHER OR NOT AN ATHLETE IS IN CHARGE IS OFTEN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WINNING AND LOSING, BUT NOW A SMALL STARTUP BORN AT ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY MAY HAVE A SOLUTION TO HELP NERVOUS ATHLETES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

WE DEVELOP DRUG-FREE TECHNOLOGIES THAT BLOCK THE EFFECT OF STRESS AND OPTIMIZE HUMAN PERFORMANCE. SPECIFICALLY THE DEVICE THAT WE ARE WORKING WITH IS A PAIR OF EAR BUDS THAT USES A TECHNOLOGY CALLED VEGAS NERVE STIMULATION. IF YOU THINK OF THE NERVE KIND OF LIKE A TREE, YOU HAVE THE TRUNK THAT GOES UP THE SIDE OF YOUR NECK, AND YOU HAVE ALL OF THESE BRANCHES THAT BRANCH OUT. YOU SIMPLY PUT THESE ELECTRODES IN YOUR EARS, AND USE THE VEGAS NERVE THAT LOWERS HEART RATE AND HELPS YOU RELAX.

WHILE VEGAS STIMULATERS LIKE THIS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CONSUMERS FOR SOMETIME NOW, THEY WANTED TO INDICATOR SPECIFICALLY TO ATHLETES.

MY GOAL WAS I WANTED TO FIND WHICH TECHNOLOGY IS MOST PRACTICAL TO HELP ATHLETES REDUCE STRESS OR GET IN THE ZONE OR OPTIMIZE THEIR PERFORMANCE. SO I GREW UP PLAYING COMPETITIVE GOLF, AND MY DREAM WAS TO PLAY ON THE PGA TOUR. MY LAST YEAR IN HIGH SCHOOL WAS KIND OF THE YEAR I NEEDED TO PLAY REALLY WELL SO I COULD COMMIT TO GOING TO COLLEGE, AND FOR WHATEVER REASON I STOPPED PLAYING WELL. I NOTICED MY HEART IS JUST POUNDING OUT OF MY CHEST, AND I COULDN'T CONTROL IT. IT WAS TERRIBLE. BECAUSE IT'S NOT LIKE MY PHYSICAL TALENT WENT AWAY, BUT FOR WHATEVER REASON, YOU KNOW, MY PERFORMANCE WAS REALLY POOR. WHAT IF, YOU KNOW, WE COULD UNDERSTAND WHERE EXACTLY IN THE BRAIN THIS PERFORMANCE ANXIETY ORIGINATES? AND THEN CAN WE STICK THIS DEVICE UP THERE AND SHUT IT OFF.

I LOOK AT THE VEGAS NERVE STIMULATION AS A PROACTIVE APPROACH TO SETTLING, RIGHT? BEFORE YOU ARE GOING TO COMPETE. I WAS ABLE IN THIS NEW PART OF MY LIFE, TO SORT OF TRAIN AWAY THAT TARGET PANIC USING A HEADSET LIKE THAT TO FOCUS ME ON THE PROCESS AND WHAT I WAS DOING.

THIS NEW BREED OF WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY SHOWS POTENTIAL TO REDUCE ANXIETY AND BOOST PERFORMANCE AMONG COMPETITIVE ATHLETES, BUT THIS ALSO RAISES ETHICAL CONCERNS. BETA BLOCKERS, A HEART MEDICATION THAT HAVE SIMILAR ANXIETY REDUCING BENEFITS ARE BANNED IN THE OLYMPICS. WOULD THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY BE CONSIDERED CHEATING?

THE WORD CHEATER, THE PERSON WHO NEVER HAS ANY NERVES, LOVES TO COMPETE, FOR THEM ANYTHING IS CHEATING, BECAUSE NOTHING IS HARD FOR THEM. BUT NOW THE ETHICAL QUESTION REALLY IS, WHO IS THE BEST ATHLETE? IS THE BEST ATHLETE THE ONE WHO JUST NATURALLY WAS BORN WITH ALL OF THAT? OR IS THE BEST ATHLETE WHO SEARCHES FOR EVERY POSSIBLE ANSWER TO BE ABLE TO SHOOT THE BEST ARROWS, AND I WOULD WANT TO USE THE VEGAS NERVE TO LEARN HOW TO DO THAT. TO LEARN I CAN BE IN CHARGE. BECAUSE THAT’S ALWAYS THE REASON I WANTED TO SHOOT ARCHERY. TO BE IN CHARGE.

EVEN WHILE ATHLETES ARGUE OVER THE USE OF VEGAS NERVE STIMULATION, IT MAY HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO CHANGE LIVES OUTSIDE OF SPORTS BY TREATING THE SYMPTOMS OF GENERAL ANXIETY AND POST DRAMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

MY HOPE IS THAT WITHIN A YEAR WE'LL BE SELLING TO ATHLETES EVERYWHERE, AND THEN ONCE WE HAVE SOME REVENUE, WE WANT TO GO DOWN THE FDA ROUTE AND GET CLEARED TO TREAT REAL MEDICAL ANXIETY AS WELL AS PTSD AND OPIOD WITHDRAWAL TREATMENT.

TED: AND "CATALYST" AIRS TONIGHT AT 9:00, RIGHT HERE ON ARIZONA PBS. THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," A CLEAN ELECTIONS DEBATE BETWEEN CANDIDATES FOR SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION. DEMOCRAT KATHY HOFFMAN FACES OFF AGAINST REPUBLICAN FRANK RIGGS. THAT'S THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING. ♪

This week’s “Catalyst: Shaping the Future” follows an ASU graduate student who’s exploring ways to help athletes cope with performance anxiety.

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