Stress: Control it or it will control you - A simple mental workout to balance body (and mind)

If you don't think your anxiety and stress impact your physical health, think again." - Kris Carr

In our previous article—Coaches: Are You Good Stressed or Bad Stressed?—we described the difference between distress and eustress, and then listed three ways you could tell if you were stressing yourself appropriately, namely

  1. Sleep Quality
  2. Exercise
  3. Mental Rest

So, you’ve spent the last few days creating a list of things that cause you distress and eustress. Great. Now what? Well, it's time to take action and

Break apart your stress

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Relieving stress by breaking things? Ahhh... if only it were that easy (and reckless). What we mean by “breaking apart” is slightly less than literal.

Before doing anything to control the stress itself, you have to come to terms with what we spoke about in our last articleStress isn't always bad.   As Kassandra Lamb, says,

Most stressors are not stressors until we interpret the as such." - Kassandra Lamb, Author and retired psychotherapist

She states that, for her, driving is relaxing. However, for her husband, it’s distressing.

The difference in the effects the activity of driving has on them is in the way they perceive the task.

Once you accept that there are differences, you’ll be better able to break your stress apart into the “good” and “bad”, and then optimize the positive while minimizing the negative.

How your body sees stress

For your body, one of the negative effects of being overworked is the buildup of lactic acid, a toxin produced within the body as a result of your muscles’ hard work. One way to relieve the discomfort caused by lactic acid (i.e. burning, tightness, soreness) is to stretch them and increase the flow of healing oxygen to the burdened areas. That’s why stretching is so important to athletes at all levels, and even to people who aren’t playing sports.

Well, the mind is little different from your muscles in this regard.

Mental stretches help you decompress

One simple way to get your stress level under control is to “stretch” your mind and release the toxins. The toxins in this case aren’t poisons, per se, but simply an unhealthy level of adrenaline and other hormones that are adversely affecting your body’s function. Jean King, a PhD at University of Massachusetts Medical School, even goes so far as to say

Chronic stress is like slow poison.

Yikes! Luckily, mental stretching can release these poisons from our bodies.

BONUS: mental stretches can be performed almost any time of day, anywhere, and take only a few seconds per repetition!


 

Mental stretching in 4 easy steps

  1. Put your hands on your lower abdomen. This is an important step – don’t skip out on it by letting your arms hang at your sides or rest on a table! Doing this will help you to center your mind by focusing your attention to your body’s literal center, or core.
  2. Take a deep belly breath. (Never done this before? Here’s a quick video to show you how.)
  3. Feel your body as you inhale and exhale. This is the “listening to your body” we mentioned in our previous article.Pay attention to your sensations, to your core muscles expanding and contracting, and to the air moving in and out of your lungs.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 multiple times. Each breath equals ONE repetition.

The goal is to start with 50 repetitions during the day and work your way up to 100.  This is not a difficult exercise; the difficulty is in remembering to do it. The best way to remember is to couple this exercise with something you already do multiple times a day, such as:

  • Going to the bathroom.
  • Taking a drink of water.
  • Sending an email.
  • Brushing your teeth.

Or, you can even remind yourself by simply setting an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour.

Control your stress

The more often you remember to get deep breath ‘reps’ into your day, the more you’ll notice how your stress is further under your control. You’ll be better able to actively direct your body’s reaction to things it deems as dangers as opposed to being prisoner to its whim.

For instance, you’ll be able to redirect the excess ‘stress energy’ toward positive thinking instead of feeding detrimental thoughts.

Practicing this redirection will further allow you to think of stress as helpful, thereby increasing what’s in your “good stress” category and decreasing what’s in the “bad”.

Mental Training for athletesUltimately, we at Positive Performance want to help you manage stress so it works FOR you instead of against you. That’s why we’ve designed our mental training programs to help both athletes AND the coaches who guide them, to gradually build mental strength through practice, reinforcement, and learning. That way, you can propel forward and win more, instead of suffering in a stressed out rut.    

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