Sports Psychology

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San Diego Figure Skating Communications

Mental Stress in Sports

There are Two Types of Stress
There are serious physical injuries to bone structure of our body - stress, simple, and compound fractures. There also are problems associated with stress impacting our mental and emotional ability to function at 100 percent of our full potential.

Causes of Mental Stress
      What really causes stress and is it necessarily a bad thing? Can stress actually be helpful or it can be hazardous? How does stress affect your body?

       Stress is a normal physical response to events which produce a feeling of being threatened or in some way upsets the daily routine in some way.  Situations that are generally viewed as stressful include:
  • Daily hassles on the job, at school, family interactions, special activities, or romantic relationships,
  • Pressure to met deadlines to complete projects, homework, or other obligations and commitments,
  • Frustrations, 
  • Unusual requests/demands on already limited resources such as time, energy, finances, etc.
        When you perceive a threat, your nervous system triggers the release of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, as an automatic response. These hormones puts your body on high alert in preparation for emergency action.

       On high alert, your senses become sharper, the heart begins to beat faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your body enhances physical characteristics - increased strength, more stamina, faster reaction time, and enhanced ability to focus on the danger.

       If the subconscious mind perceives a dangerous and possible life threatening situation, there is a an automatic defensive reaction known as "Fight or Flight".  This defensive reaction immediately kicks in and helps you to focus and energize you at a high alert stage.

       In an emergency, this response can save your life by giving you extra strength you never knew you processed.  Unfortunately not all people respond the same way. Instead some individuals experience extreme panic that causes them to become paralyzed, unable to move because they are experiencing a state of total terror. The body reacts the same to real or imagined dangers!    

How do you react to stress?
       It is important to be able to recognize when negative stress levels are out of control. Stress can easily sneak up and blind side you. Unfortunately you can get used to stress and it begins to feels normal so you don't notice the affect it is having on you.  

       Imagine a situation you consider to be stressful. Did you feel:
  • Overwhelmed, helpless and frustrated?
  • Angry or agitated state of being keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
  • Withdrawn or depressed state when you shut down, space out, and have very low energy levels or are emotionless.
  • You “freeze” under pressure and experience an "out of body" state of being paralyzed, but your mind is extremely agitated and frustrated by the lack of control and failure to respond.
  • Energized, challenged and hopeful?
       What was your body's reaction to the situation? Did your muscles tense up and your heart start racing?  How did you respond:
  • By ignore the situation or avoiding it/running away?
  • By staying and confronting the issue?
       Your response to these questions provides an insight as to how you might respond to such situations and also provides an insight of how you might deal with such stress. Your perception of a situation might not be as others view the same situation. In addition, your ability to handle a stressful episode might be over or under estimated.

Not all Stressful Situations produces a Negative Result
       Not everyone reacts to stressful situations in the same manner. For example, in a catastrophic event, such as a natural disasters, will bring out different reactions with some people performing heroically and others experiencing a total physical and mental shutdown.

       Stress is part of our daily living experience. How each individual deals with the stress and the length of any specific stressful experience can vary widely. In extremely stressful conditions or if the stress persists over a long-term accumulated effects will damage your body. Actually, small quantities of stress can produce a positive boost in performance.

       Short-term stress can be expected before an important job presentation, test, interview, or competitive sporting event. In these circumstances the stress triggers a chemical reaction in the body that provides extra energy needed to perform at your best. But long-term stress is when a person constantly worries over their job, school, or family - may actually drain the person's energy and their ability to perform at a high level.

       Some people lead unexciting lives with little or no stress. As a result they are rather boring and mundane, but it also can mean they are not be living up to their full potential. Conversely, if everything or large portions of someone's life causes sever stress, they may experience personality/behavior symptomatic of physical or mental health problems that will acerbate their behavior.

       Everyone from the very young to the elderly experience stress in their life. Sometimes friends, family, and co-workers described the symptoms as being moody, grumpy, out of sorts, etc.  Stress can also emerge as displays of irritation, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.  Understanding and handling stress in developing figure skaters is frequently ignored.

       Stress has been proven to contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes, and reduces a person's resistance to less serious illnesses like colds. Prolonged, high stress levels can contribute to susceptibility to alcoholism, obesity, drug addiction, cigarette use, depression, and other harmful behaviors.

Managing Stress
       Gaining an awareness of the impact stress has on our mind and body provides a pathway of changing how we deal with stress. This will lead to a healthier and more balanced life. The following suggestions are provided to manage stress in your life:
  • Learn to recognize potential situations for conflicts that can become emotionally charged and highly stressful.  Anticipate how you can handle such situations in a more positive and healthier manner. If you have difficulty expressing your feelings, you need to learn how to be more assertive so you are better prepared to handle it in a completely different manner.
  • Eliminate unhealthy coping mechanisms such as compulsive behaviors: alcohol, drugs and over eating.  Replace these behaviors with healthy substitutes such as exercise, yoga, spiritual practice or outdoor activities.
  • Become aware if you practice negative self talk. You may need professional counseling to work on ways of building yourself up instead of tearing yourself down.
  • Are you contributing to the stress levels of situations? Plan ahead so you are better organized should help you to feel more in control!  Stop avoiding issues and problems. Confront them head on by making small changes that may cause a stressful situation to be more manageable.
  • Take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Your body sends signals if you are not getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, or exercising. Recognize these signals are indicative that some action needs to occur to prevent the problem from becoming critical.
  • When you are feeling tense, immediately cease the behavior and begin performing deep breathing exercises while visualizing yourself in a serene, tranquil setting.
  • Learn the difference between what you can and cannot control. Do not accept responsible for things occurring in another person's life unless you want to feel like a failure and become depressed for someone else's behavior.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Do not overextend yourself by saying yes when you really must say no! Taking on too many responsibilities leads to exhaustion, resentment and stressful relationships.
  • Seek the assistance of a therapist or join a support group before stress has become overwhelming to the point where it is affecting your physical and emotional health.
     The articles, listed in the Recommended Reading section below, should help you become aware of how stress can be channeled to achieve positive rather than negative results.

Recommended Reading:
Personal and Public Boundaries   Some boundaries are very real and tangible, like fences with locked gates that secure property. Intangible boundaries are inside you. They determine what you do and don't do. They also establish what you will tolerate others doing to you.

Tools to Handle Stress Situations   A little stress is not going to kill you. Small doses can actually be good for you. However, chronic and severe stress can damage your body and mind.

The Role Our Thoughts and Emotions Play in our Actions  There is both positive and negative energy associated with our emotions. We transmit an invisible, but palpable energy to others that reflects our mental and physical health.

Traits of a World Class Athlete  The characteristics shared by elite and world class figure skater are:
• In order to be the best, you first must select a discipline you desire to excel —
• Only after someone discovers their passion are they ready to do what it takes to achieve
   their desired goal.
• Everyone wants to be great, but only a few are willing to pay the price to achieve their
   passion. These individuals are not afraid of working hard, putting in extra time, and 
  sacrificing other interests to pursue their goal.

Profiling a Competitor  “Competitors” are those individuals who strive to make themselves better, support teammates efforts to improve, and work to towards improving the sport of figure skating.

Do you Approach Testing or Competing with Trepidation?  Many individuals develop “cold feet” or second guess their decision to test or compete. It is common for this individual to put off making a decision until the cutoff date has passed.

Dealing with Daily Stressful Situations  It is important that every individual be proactive and become an active participant in making the decisions that affect your life. Accepting responsibility for making decisions allows you to reject/avoid stressful situations and helps you to accept accountability for your decisions.
 Identifying Negative Thinking
Some common forms of negative self doubting include:
  • Filtering
  • Personalizing
  • Catastrophizing
  • Polarizing
The Role of Positive Thinking in Stress Management  Is your glass half-empty or half-full? How you answer this age-old question about positive thinking may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic.

How To Use Imagery and Self Hypnosis for Sports What is Imagery? Imagery, sometimes called guided imagery, visualization, mental rehearsal, or self hypnosis, refers to specific techniques often used by psychologists to help individuals visualize or mentally rehearse a desired event.

Improve Your Sport Performance with Visualization Techniques  Guided Imagery May Improve Athletic Performance. Visualization has also been called guided imagery, mental rehearsal, mediation, and a variety of other things -- no matter the term, the basic techniques and concepts are the same.

Are you ready to take your performance to the next level?  The essential goal is to establish a method and an approach that fuels success. At the center of this concept is strengthening an athlete's inner belief that they can achieve greatness. 

       Only when change is created at the subconscious level does a real transformation and athletes can effectively program their minds for success, release old ideas of limitation, and experience rapid, positive, and lasting results.


Learn More About:

Is Your Stress IQ Hurting Your Performance?     by Dr. Mick G. Mack

Jitter Bug: Overcoming the First Tee (golf)    by Patrick J. Cohn

Pass or Fail: Learning How to Make the Grade (golf)    by Patrick J. Cohn

Preventing "Choking" and Downward Performance Cycles     by Dr. Robert M. Nideffer

A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Anxiety in Athletes     by Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.

Q-School Pressure Takes Mental Toughness (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

Shooting Low Means Beating Fear (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

Stress, Anxiety and Energy     Follow the down arrow (at page top and bottom) for continued discussion.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective     by Miguel Humara, M.A.

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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