Anxiety, we’ve all felt it. It’s the cringe in your stomach when you step up to the plate. It’s the feeling of clammy hands making it difficult to grip the club on the last hole. It’s the shortness of breath before taking a free throw shot. It’s excessive perspiration ruining a shirt before a big speech. It’s a pounding heart as the starting gun sounds. It’s the body kicking into overdrive stimulating the fight or flight response.
The field of sport psychology has developed multiple approaches and strategies to fight the negative side effects of competitive anxiety. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation aim to quiet the mind and the body, decreasing the heart rate and in turn quieting the racing mind.
However, a simple change in perception can be just as beneficial to controlling those pre-game jitters. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, is known for taking research and turning it into easy useful methods for the everyday person to utilize. In her latest Ted Talk she speaks about how to view stress in a positive manner. I found her approach to work very well, especially in preparation for competition.
Most of us interpret the above stress syndrome as negative. We think, oh no I must be really nervous for this performance. But what if we started to view that stress response as helpful? If we thought, oh my heart is pounding and my breath is quickening my body must be revving up for competition. The pounding heart just gets more blood to my muscles which helps them perform more efficiently. The increase in breath rate is helping to increase the oxygen in my bloodstream to help my body work harder. Researchers found that this simple change in perspective actually changed the physical stress response in participants. They still felt the pounding heart and the sweaty hands, however, their blood vessels didn’t constrict as they did previously. This allowed for better blood flow throughout the body and was actually a helpful response!
Next time you are walking up to the plate for an at bat and feel your stress response kicking in, view it as a positive thing! It is helping your body prepare for competition, embrace it, and use it’s power!
For more information watch the “Making Stress Your Friend” Ted Talk
Quote of the day: “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one” Hans Selye