The good, the bad and the ugly: Surprising ways competition affects mental health
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Competition is an inevitable part of life. The natural feelings of competitiveness that most experience on some level can be healthy or harmful to an individual’s mental health, depending on how these feelings are managed. When left unacknowledged and unaddressed, these competitive tendencies can increase anxiety and lead to behaviors that interfere with interpersonal relationships.

Businesses often thrive on competition. A 2010 meta-analysis entitled “The Psychology of Rivalry: A relationally dependent analysis of competition” suggests the drive individuals exhibit when in competition is directly related to the relationship they have with their respective competitors. For example, “…long-standing industry competitors, such as Oracle and SAP, Coke and Pepsi or Microsoft and Apple, may come to define success by their performance vis-à-vis one another.” Men and women have proven to respond to competitive scenarios in different ways. Though many studies support this disparity between genders, a 2011 scholarly article entitled “Gender and Competition” noted that further research must be done to determine if these differences affect “educational and career outcomes.”

Whether vying for the heart of an eligible bachelor or competing to see who can complete an obstacle course the fastest without wiping out, competition is at the heart of many popular reality television programs. In this context, competition has proven to bring out unpleasant characteristics in many individuals. This new take on competition applies to talent-based programs, as well, which often have the power to jumpstart careers. As Dr. Christian Jarrett of the British Psychological Society explains, “There have always been artistic rivalries, but thanks to the rise of TV shows like The X-Factor, competition is also becoming a more overt part of creative success.”

Competitiveness is a natural feeling for many individuals, but it can come with negative emotions such as stress, jealousy and anxiety. Clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Firestone notes, “…allowing ourselves to feel our competitive feelings clearly and directly is not only acceptable; it’s actually healthy.” When people deprive themselves of this acknowledgement of their true feelings, it paves the way for the development of cynicism and resentment toward competitors. This can also lead to low self-esteem and anxiety when faced with situations in which competition is inevitable.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, including that which is related to competition, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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