You have a major athletic competition coming up and you are stressed out. You set some major goals for yourself this time and are nervous about how it’s going to all turn out. The anxiety over race day is even keeping you up at night and you know you need sleep to perform your best. What to do?
You have to get a handle on your stress. If life or a competition is stressing you out, here are a few tips to help you manage it so it doesn’t impact your performance.
Every athlete needs stretching time, right? Yoga is a great addition to any training program. Not only does it help improve flexibility, it also targets the emotional, mental and physical aspects of stress. Regular practice increases focus and reduces anxiety. The breath work involved in yoga can also translate to physical activity, helping you learn to control breathing during strenuous exercise.
Like yoga, mindfulness is another way to calm the mind and body. Mindfulness involves developing an awareness of the moment, instead of constantly thinking about the past or future. This help reduce stress because it prevents anxious, counterproductive thoughts about what might happen in the future (and rarely does). People who practice mindfulness regularly have better memory, improved processing speed, lower stress, and are able to focus on whatever task is at hand.
Strengthen your mindfulness muscle by practicing meditation, starting with just 5 to 10 minutes a day.
Keeping calm under stress is actually a skill that you can learn with practice. The more you expose yourself to stressful situations, the more you will learn how to cope. This may seem silly, but invite a few friends over and give a speech in front of them. Encourage them to heckle you and try to stay calm. Or sign up for a public speaking course to learn how to keep your cool under pressure. Learning how to keep calm when under stress will translate into less anxiety and help you stay cool as a cucumber.
Stress can impact our ability to make decisions, making it difficult if we are participating in a physical activity that also requires thinking and planning ahead, like a triathlon.
Try to automate as many decisions as you can, so there are fewer you will have to make on event day. Lay out all your clothes, fuel and other equipment a week ahead of time. Think through every aspect of the race. Make all the decisions about what to bring and how to organize yourself as early as possible, so stress doesn’t interfere with your preparation on the day of the event.
Within reason, stress can actually improve mental and physical performance. It gets your heart pumping and blood flowing if you are amped up. It can help motivate you to train harder, and give you an edge over the competition.
To some extent, every athlete will experience pre-competition jitters. But it’s only a problem when it starts to negatively impact your performance. Try to make stress work for you. Making stress management a priority can help boost your performance and make you feel your best.
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