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There are many similar questions to this, like Problems with chess anxiety, or How to relax when playing chess, but though they seem to be tackling the same question, I feel like my situation is still a bit different.

To start off, playing chess in general, during games, gives me a lot of anxiety. It isn't just stress or feeling overwhelmed, but a really overwhelming anxiety I can't figure out how to get rid of. During any game of chess, my heart rate starts going really up and I can feel it pounding fast and loud in my chest the whole game, my stomach knots really uncomfortably, and I tremble a little bit. But the thing is, it's not like I'm so nervous because I'm worried about losing—not at all. I can't pinpoint why I feel so nervous. (When I lose, I have less a reaction than when I win.)

During all these games, I try to suppress the anxiety because it's affecting my gameplay, and I know that the game isn't really important, I tell myself it's a game, I'm moving pieces on a chessboard. And heck, I'm just as nervous when I play unrated games or unlimited time control. It's like the anxiety is just default.

Well yeah, that's my question. I really love chess even though I'm not very good at it; when I watch people play it on Youtube or I go through some puzzles, it's really fun, and I always wished I could play chess more freely because I do really want to, but the anxiety's holding me back and I don't know how to unblock it or what's causing it.

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  • So this is all the time when actually playing, even during friendly games, but not during puzzles?
    – D M
    Jul 2 at 22:49
  • @DM Yes, that's right. I'm still nervous with puzzles, but it's a way less effect. No shaking, no loud heartbeat, no sweating, just hoping for the best. Jul 2 at 23:49
  • 3
    For what it's worth I get the exact same feeling during games I care about. In long time control games, especially OTB, my heart rate is insane for more than an hour. I've noticed this feeling only lasts as long as the position appears critical. Once I'm won (or lost!) and there's really no more hope for either side, my fight or flight feeling disappears even while the game is going on. There's probably no reason for me to write this comment except to let you know that you're not alone! Jul 3 at 1:30
  • Do you have this problem in other areas of your life as well or is it just chess related? And what is your general approach toward learning chess? I'm far from good in the game and have just a couple 100 games under my belt but my experience so far was a bit, that taking it too serious was crippling my play. I tried to read a lot about the theory of the game while not playing and so on and as a result also got super nervous about every match - probably because it was just overwhelming. I took a few weeks off and play it in a more relaxed way now and all the anxiety is somehow gone.
    – Christian
    Jul 4 at 11:25
  • The boost of sensations (adrenalin ?) described here and experienced during a game is probably the main thing that got me addicted to chess for so long...
    – Evargalo
    Jul 5 at 8:47
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I would say figuring out under which conditions the anxiety kicks in can be an interesting challenge for you, which should help you figure a plan to deal with it. So:

  1. clock vs. no clock - really no difference?
  2. vs. friend and vs. stranger - any difference?
  3. OTB vs. online
  4. you say puzzles/tactics are not really a problem; how about competitive puzzle-solving such as puzzle battle on chess.com?
  5. how about other games against another human being? sports? conflict in general with other people, be it trivial or serious (potentially physical)?
  6. how about playing against a child?
  7. against a girl or woman?
  8. against a chess engine that you yourself operate?

My understanding of anxiety (and I most certainly suffer from it as well) is that it's a fear response. My guess would be that the chess anxiety is either a fear of conflict or an association with a deeper fear (of some kind of failure, with some terrible imagined punishment/consequence).

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Stress management in a chess tournament was addressed in this forum by Ritesh Singh Feb 1, 2018. The following is nearly verbatim from his comment.

It can be captured in one word: Equanimity. Or, in other words, detachment with results. You should try to make yourself as unconcerned as possible with the result of your game / match / tournament.

This is by far the most effective way of dealing with stress in any situation, whether related to chess or otherwise. Furthermore, if this is not done, that is, if there is a lot of attachment with, and concern about the results, no amount of breathing or walking will reduce the stress with any degree of significance.

The following three verses from the Bhagvad Gita perfectly summarize the attitude that you need to have. They frequently help me in dealing with stress / anxiety / concern in my own life.

English Translation: You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but do not consider yourself entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

English Translation: One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, has a steady intellect.

English Translation: One who remains unattached under all conditions, and is neither delighted by good fortune nor dejected by misfortune, he is a sage with perfect knowledge.

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