Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. A little bit of stress is normal and is also beneficial for human performance, however too much stress can start a spiralling effect that could lead to negative outcomes such as rumination, self-doubt, pessimism and even burnout. For many athletes, the stress of performing can quickly pile up when things are not going well. Perhaps you are not scoring, or making too many mistakes or your playing time is decreased by your coach. Most often, we start pointing fingers at others and blaming them for your actions instead of taking control of what you can personally do. Athletes need to be highly adaptive and capable of dealing with internal and external disturbances in a flexible way.
People who base their success on their own work and believe they control their own life have an internal locus of control. In contrast, people who attribute their success or failure to outside influences have an external locus of control. For example, let’s say you’re a person with an internal locus of control and you get a promotion at work or achieve some other type of success. You will probably attribute that positive end result to the work you put in. In other words, your success was a direct result of your hard work. If, on the other hand, you have an external locus of control, you might attribute that promotion or success to external or environmental factors, such as luck, fate, timing, other people or some type of divine intervention. Let’s use the same example and say that you were denied a promotion. If your locus of control is internal, you would find a way to blame yourself for the perceived failure. If your locus of control is external, it would be easy, even natural, to blame outside sources beyond your control. Research has shown that people who are internally controlled have better self-efficacy and are better at dealing with the daily stressors of life.
Three Exercises to Help Beat Stress and Boost Performance
1. Be kind to yourself!
Your actions are always accompanied with some sort of inner thought. For example, you’re playing hockey and you have the chance to score an easy goal in an empty net and you miss. Besides being shocked many people will react in a poor way and tell themselves they suck and that they’re no good at hockey. Our brains have something called the Reticular Activating System or “RAS” for short, which is the size of a lima bean and acts as a filter for our mind. So, whatever we say or internally think, the brain will think it’s normal and will continue to process any information exactly how you perceive it. Until you change your thoughts and your internal dialogue you will continue to have series of negative outcomes. So, the next time you miss an empty net, say to yourself, I am a good hockey player and the next chance I get, I will score. Think about some negative scenarios that occur regularly in your life and think about how you react to them. Write out some better solutions to your old bad habits and carry those out when the situation occurs again and evaluate over time. Being able to handle stressful situations in a positive way will help you deal with challenges easier and keep you more balanced, confident and less stressed moving forward.
2. What are you good at?
It may seem like an easy question and you may think you already know the answer, but until you write down all your positive strengths, not only as an athlete, but as a person you may realize that you’ve forgotten about a few useful positive characteristics that could come in handy during stressful situations. Knowing your strengths crystal clear creates instant happiness and meaning, and reflecting on what you are good at will make you feel better. It is also important to ask people you are close to what they think your strengths are. Maybe you hear something new about yourself from someone else that you didn’t even realize and by doing so you are instantly building more self-awareness and confidence. If you can create a list of 10 positive strengths and read that list daily a couple of times you are building positive neuronal changes to your brain which will keep you focused on the good in you and affirm you of what you do best and this translates well out on the playing field and in your everyday life. Your RAS will filter more positivity and negativity will slowly creep out of your conscious mind.
3. Just Breathe
Just by slowing down your inhales and having stronger exhales you will automatically create a calming and relaxing effect. When we are stressed our breath tends to be shorter and more rapid and we are carrying negative characteristics which are disturbing the way you feel. In sports competition, the outcomes constantly take twists and turns and if you are on the losing side or you are at blame for a costly mistake you can improve frustration, slow down your mind, thoughts and negativity just by focusing on breathing. It does not require much time, and can be very effective between shifts or during intermissions as a quick fix to your mood. Simply breathe in a characteristic that you need in that moment, such as positivity, calmness or happiness and breathe out any negative characteristics which are burdening you, such as frustration, rage and sadness. Breathe for a minute with 4-8 second inhales and 2-3 second strong exhales.
Very often we can bring the stress of a game home with us. This is normal but rest and regeneration are a huge part of having competitive success. I’m sure many of you have been up till 3am and can’t sleep or calm down because of the result of poor personal play, a loss or frustration between a teammate or coach and you wake up the next day feeling poorly rested and still frustrated. Without ways to relax, people become restless and stressed and exhaustion gets worse and worse. A guided meditation is a highly effective way to help deal with those problems. It will decrease your heart-rate and oxygen consumption, it changes the brains electrical activity, it balances emotions and leaves you feeling mentally and physically fresh. A guided meditation from an app like Headspace is a great way to start and after you will be refreshed and ready to hit the sheets.
There is not one simple way to conquer stress but having a few well-trained coping mechanisms will help you deal with it much easier. Set aside 10-15 minutes every day to practice and work on a few of these things and your mood, playing ability and well-being will quickly be on the rise. Do whatever you can to control how you feel and if you have any questions or concerns please reach out and I will try my best to individually help tackle and issues you may have. All information in this article is credited from Salzburg University Mental Coaching.