Fear of the Unknown or FOTU
Mental health Women cycling

Do you suffer anxiety from your Fear of the Unknown or FOTU?

Fear of the Unknown or FOTU

When it comes to riding a bike I’ve recently honed in on an issue that triggers anxiety for me – Fear of the Unknown or FOTU. When I psycho analyse myself I realise that I’ve always suffered silently from FOTU without giving it a name. If I’m going on a ride that I’ve done many times like my regular Saturday (been riding it for more than 13 years) and my usual Wednesday ride (been riding it for seven years) I feel no anxiety. But when I’m heading off on a ride I’ve never done before the dreaded FOTU creeps in.

Sound familiar? If you’re like me, you might benefit from some of the techniques I’ve developed and practiced to lessen the anxiety.

Talk about it

I think this one is particularly important for women. Talk about your anxiety with your partner or close friends who understand how you’re feeling. Women make sense of things by talking about them so don’t bottle it all up and try to solve it alone. You’ll find that your confidant can reassure you that you ‘can do it’ but also give you the chance to make sense of your anxiety yourself. I find it moves me from my negative sub-conscious thinking to more positive conscious thoughts.

I was going on a new ride with two friends a couple of weeks ago, and when I started to speak to my mates about my hesitance they immediately recognised my anxiety and helped me get through it. Needless to say, I had a great ride.

Be your own fan club

When you’re preparing for a ride and as you push through the pain during a ride, it’s natural to talk to yourself and it’s also natural to be critical of yourself. Studies show that both negative and positive self-talk influence performance.

Develop a mantra like ‘I’ve got this’ or ‘I can do this’ to repeat when you need to block negative thoughts from rushing in. You could also try the famous mantra of pro cyclist Jens Voigt – ‘shut up legs’. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and take my focus completely off any physical pain.


Many elite athletes use visualisation to improve performance, develop confidence, and manage anxiety. You simply imagine yourself successfully completing the ride.

To make visualisation work, close your eyes and imagine the physical movements that you would make to be successful. Try to imagine yourself moving at the same speed as you would in real life. Also, make sure that you are imagining from your perspective — not from that of an observer. You should be viewing the scene as you would if you were there — not watching yourself compete.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety such as an increased heart rate, tense muscles, and quick and shallow breathing. These techniques can be used at any time leading up to a performance or competition and may be particularly helpful when practiced the night before or in the hours preceding an event to help keep nerves at bay.

Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, feeling your chest expand from top to bottom, finally allowing your abdomen to push fully outward. Pause. Then steadily exhale through your mouth, pushing out that last bit of breath so your belly empties. Feel your muscles relax. Repeat five to 10 times. I learnt this type of breathing in yoga classes and it definitely helps in any stressful situation.

Do your research

Study the ride route and profile and compare it to other similar rides you have completed. For me, this can sometimes make me more anxious because I rush through things like map reading. Take your time and fully understand the extent of the climbs or descents, or whatever aspect causes your anxiety.

Ask other riders who have done the ride before about how they found it. I usually find this most comforting, particularly if I ask riders who are at a similar level to me.

I always find that once I’m on my bike just after the ride has begun I start to relax. For me, the simple act of actually turning over the pedals somehow convinces me that I can and will finish the ride.

How do you handle your Fear of the Unknown? Share via comments or the Women Who Cycle Facebook page.