Our minds are capable of profound effects on our body. In sports psychology, we pay special attention to this important connection, knowing that the link between them both is closer than we think.
Throughout our lives we will face a number of challenges and stressful situations, that can affect us in many different ways. Negative emotional states can impact on our actions and behaviour, in the same way that a positive outlook can influence our wellbeing. The associated physiological symptoms can differ from person to person, and can be more pronounced in some more than others.
As an athlete, it’s important to give due attention to the subtle cues your body is telling you. Quite often, being tuned in to your body and mind will allow you to understand the ways that environment factors and our mental health can impact our physical being.
The first step is to be aware of how these factors can affect our body. Once identified we can then start to challenge them.
Here’s some ways that the mind influences the body, and how we can help manage them.
A good night’s sleep
As the saying goes ‘don’t lose sleep over it’. However, if you find yourself waking up thinking about your worries, or have trouble falling asleep, it could be a sign that certain anxieties are starting to get to you.
There’s a number of relaxation and breathing techniques, as well as natural herbal remedies that might help with these symptoms. Couple this with a healthy balanced diet, and adequate amounts of exercise and exposure to daylight, to help keep on top of it. Make sleep a priority and give yourself adequate time before going to bed to unwind.
Whether you’re conscious of it or not, stress and anxiety can make you tense up. This might be something you’re familiar with if your physio has told you that you carry tension in certain parts of your body. For some this is in the neck and shoulders, others can clench their jaws, some store it up in the lower muscles and so forth. This is due to body and mind working together to release stress hormones into the bloodstream, where they can bring about certain changes in the body; also known as ‘fight or flight’.
Massage, stretching, moderate exercise and a good night’s sleep are all ways in which we can help manage muscle tension.
Anxiety and stress
Worry, fear, anxiety and stress are all very present emotional symptoms of how the mind influences the body. When we start to have negative feelings, these can materialise in many ways, with both physical and psychological responses.
Meditation, mindfulness and talking through issues with friends and family, as well as sports coaches may help to deal with some of these daily stresses.
When we allow ourselves to be overcome with anxiety, our body can respond in physical ways; one of these is sweating. It’s a common sign of a panic attack, when the body experiences a rush of symptoms and releases ‘thyrotoxicosis’ (hormones), which result in profuse sweating.
However, if mind influences the body, then body can influence the mind. By taking deep breaths, we can use positive imagery to realign our thoughts and by taking a step back, we can help regain control.
In extreme cases of stress, often when receiving ‘shocking’ news, our body goes into combat mode. This results in hyperventilation – the incidence of breathing rapidly. In science terms, it’s the result of exhaling more than inhaling. It’s commonly seen in day-to-day wellbeing issues, such as panic attacks. Individuals who suffer from these are taught deep breathing techniques and relaxation. The simple act of focusing on our breath can help restore calmness and serenity.
If you find your body trembling, it’s trying to tell you something. Sometimes it’s a rush of excitement, other times it can be an overwhelming feeling of nervousness. It’s the body’s physical response – muscles tighten as a way of making them more resilient to damage. It also stimulates the nervous system as part of our stress response.
Loss of appetite
Stress eating, as it’s known, is one way in which the mind influences the body. Some people eat more in challenging times, others eat less, and some are unaffected. It is however known that at times of stress the body can release extra cortisol which can influence appetite, particularly the desire for sugary or fatty foods. If emotional eating is affecting your wellbeing, then speak to your nutritionist or sports coach to discuss ways to break the cycle.
The feeling of butterflies, also known as abdominal tension is a common physical response to stress. Those who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome may be aware of the link between body and mind, and how this can trigger episodes. Guided relaxation, breathing exercises and taking time out to manage emotions are all ways we can cope with these feelings. Dieticians will also stress the importance of a healthy well-balanced diet too and may recommend a probiotic, coupled with regular exercise.
Pins and needles
It’s one of the most uncomfortable sensations, and it can easily be brought about through anxiety. Pins and needles is an active stress response, that occurs when blood vessels tighten. As well as the physical desire to ‘shake’ and move around to improve circulation, we can use mindfulness to divert our focus to our bodies.
And finally, stress can take many forms, and an increased heart rate is often a physical reaction to this emotional state. As your body releases adrenaline, the hormone can cause your breathing and indeed heart rate to speed up. While often alarming, deep breathing, guided meditation and trying to refocus your mind may help restore your normal balance.
Nonetheless, if you experience heart concerns, or are worried about any of the above symptoms, please see a professional medical advisor.
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