3 Ways To Manage Stress And Anxiety As An Athlete

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3 Ways To Manage Stress And Anxiety As An Athlete

We are watching this unfold right before our eyes.

They are pulling out of events, sitting on the side of courses with their head in their hands, and even retiring completely from the sports and profession they have spent the majority of their lives pursuing before the age of 25.

Today's athletes are feeling overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, and the pressure they feel to not only attain greatness in sport but to continue to maintain that number one spot. 

As a competitive athlete, it is close to impossible not to feel some level of stress or anxiety so it is important to not only be able to identify stress when shows up in our body and emotions but also to learn tools to manage stress so it does not overwhelm us. 

The Sports Management Mastermind invited clinical psychologist Dr. Melanie McNally who specializes in working with teens and tweens, to join us for a free masterclass to explain how stress and anxiety can show up in a young person along with 3 ways to manage stress and anxiety as an athlete. 

  • Identify Signs Of Stress and Anxiety:  Stress can show up in different ways in young athletes so it is important to learn to recognize the signs both as the athlete and parent or coach of one. Common signs include trouble falling and staying asleep as well as complaints of stomach and GI issues, and pain in the body.  Signs of increased irritability such as being really snappy or cranky or tearing up more easily can also be signs of elevated stress and anxiety. And if an athlete is asking more reassuring questions about the information they already know, that you have answered once or twice already, this can also be a sign of feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Know Your Why:  WHY are you doing your sport? Writing down the reason why you participate in your respective sport in the first place is an important practice. Take time to write down what you love about participating in your respective sport and the reasons you do it.  Is it because of a certain feeling you get (fun or creativity), is the environment (mountains or ocean) you get to compete in, or is it the action sports community itself? Revisiting your WHY when you are feeling stressed or even have low motivation is a great way to center yourself and remind yourself of why you do this in the first place.  Or if there is an image that reminds you of your WHY use it as a screensaver! 
  • Practice Breathing Exercises: When athletes are feeling stress or anxiety it's because their central nervous system has gone into overdrive. By practicing various breathing exercises we can regulate our central nervous system and temper our stress and anxiety.  A simple breathing exercise can include inhaling through your nose for the count of four, then hold your breath for the count of seven, then exhale through your mouth for the count of eight.  By doing three to five cycles of this breathing you can help manage your stress or anxiety.  
  • Practice Gratitude: As hippy dippy as this sounds it is actually a very powerful tool to help manage stress and anxiety. Because athletes are always focused on winning the next event or getting to the next level of their career they tend to put a lot of focus on what they do not have (yet) which can bring on feelings of stress.  When we shift our focus to what we are grateful for, such as what we have accomplished already, our abilities and health, our opportunity to compete with our friends and travel the world, and having the support of people who love us we can feel our blood pressure drop. Take the time each day to identify three things are grateful for, whether you write them down or think about them before you go to bed, we promise it will make you feel better.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: When you feel your body tensing up from stress or anxiety or if you are tossing and turning and you cannot sleep from feelings of stress practice the progressive muscle relaxation method. It is a practice of tensing and tightening one muscle group at a time followed by a relaxation phase with a release of the tension.  Starting from the lower part of your body work your way up to your head as it has been shown that mental relaxation is a natural result of physical relaxation. Try this either in a seated position or laying down.
  1. While inhaling, contract one muscle group (for example your calves) for 5 seconds to 10 seconds, then exhale and suddenly release the tension in that muscle group.
  2. Give yourself 10 seconds to 20 seconds to relax, and then move on to the next muscle group
  3. While releasing the tension, try to focus on the changes you feel when the muscle group is relaxed. Imagery may be helpful in conjunction with the release of tension, such as imagining that stressful feelings are flowing out of your body as you relax each muscle group.
  4. Gradually work your way up the body contracting and relaxing muscle groups.

Feelings of stress and anxiety are a part of life, whether you are an athlete or not. The key is being able to identify when the stress is creeping in or starting to get to a point where it becomes overwhelming and use the necessary tools to diffuse it. 

We encourage young athletes to use their voice and seek help when dealing with overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety because you do not have to deal wtih this alone. Your mental health and emotional health must come first. 

Thank you to Dr. Melanie McNally, you can learn more about her self-guided app for teens and tweens to help manage stress at www.destinationyou.net/therapy-bootcamp and her monthly parent support group at www.destinationyou.net/parent-support-group 


Author Sue Izzo

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