No matter how accomplished you are as an athlete, it’s important to know techniques for managing stress and nerves. Sports professionals are under increasing pressure to perform, compete and reach higher goals than ever before. For some, this pressure materialises into anxiety and can affect wellbeing and mental health.
However, there are some steps that can be taken, to help minimise the effects of a stressful environment. Coupled with a healthy balanced diet, it’s possible to transform any challenge into a positive situation. Here’s a few tried and tested techniques to support your sports programme:
One way to reduce stress is to try and plan in advance. It may be as simple as having your kit ready for training, or planning your athletic performance training session before meeting your sports coach. Being organised means that you have one less thing to worry about, and allows you to carry out your business without any added pressure. Think about your schedule a day, week or even month in advance – what can you do to take the pressure off?
Nerves are a response to our ‘flight or fight’ defence, and will often crop up in sport. When this happens, relaxation techniques to calm the body and mind can help your overall wellbeing. As part of mental preparation, try breathing exercises. These can help refocus the mind. On a physical level, it also encourages more oxygen into the lungs, which in turn helps with heart rate and blood pressure. Some sports coaches might suggest trying to reframe the emotion – seeing nerves as excitement, allowing us to process the feeling in a more positive light.
It is easy to be overwhelmed when we see a massive feat ahead of us to conquer. While big picture thinking is important and has its place, sometimes we need to focus on the here and now. Wellbeing practices often encourage a ‘step-by-step’ approach. By breaking milestones down into easy to digest goals, it is easier to achieve and manage this way.
Self-confidence plays a huge part in daily sport. When it comes to managing stress and nerves, having a positive outlook and self-belief will help remind you what you are capable of. Think back to previous successes, and remind yourself that you have the ability to repeat these. Believe in yourself and your abilities.
It’s good to talk
It’s important to look after our mental health, and just simply talking to trusted friends and family is a great way to relieve anxiety. Sometimes just articulating your fears or frustrations can help clarify thoughts or purge them from your mind. Social interaction is important for personal wellbeing and can make you feel less isolated at the same time. Try to avoid bottling feelings up and speak to those in your close circle, including your sports coach, to express how you’re feeling. If nothing else, getting a different perspective can be beneficial.
Turning negative into positive
It’s OK to have negative thoughts, and to acknowledge them. But rather than being burdened by them, think of ways that you can challenge them and turn them from a negative into a positive. For instance, if you are taken out of sport for a few weeks due to injury, this is naturally upsetting. However, this also means that you have been given time and space – think about opportunities you can focus on during this time that you might not have otherwise been able to do.
It’s OK to ask for help
There are times when we all struggle and face challenges in life. With a growing awareness of mental health in the media, society is slowly beginning to open up about daily struggles, especially sports stars. The first step in managing stress is to ask for help. Speak to your sports coach, family member of close friend and ask them for support – you may be surprised at how much it can help. It never ever means you have failed, if anything it shows strength of character. We all need help at times in our life, it takes courage to acknowledge this.
It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep is essential for function and performance. Many athletes cite sleep as one of their essential tools for mental preparation, often before a race or event. Studies have shown a link between poor sleep and mental health issues, such as anxiety and stress. Incorporate sleep into your training programme, look at it as important for restoration and repair. Aim for seven to ten hours of sleep a night, and ensure you create an environment conducive to rest. Finally, ditch technology if it’s keeping you up.
There’s no such thing as perfect
Striving to be the best is something that many athletes aspire to. But in managing stress, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfection. Instead, focus on being the best version of yourself. Set achievable goals that you can work towards and take time to acknowledge your successes when you reach them.
Many athletes use imagery as a tool for performance and managing stress. There are many ways this can be positively used to help alleviate nerves and anxiety. Often, this involves thinking back to a previous success and believing that this triumph can be achieved again. There’s also an element of mentally rehearsing a situation that can help prepare you for an event. You can also use mental images and scenarios to help relax your mind and put you in a ‘happier place’.
Keen to unlock your potential as an individual or business?