The tough get going when the going gets tough…but wise men do not beat their heads against brick walls!
Have you heard this saying before? Perhaps you have heard the first half in reference to mental toughness and coping with stressful situations and circumstances. But when does the stress and the impact of the load you carry on your shoulders become unbearable? Consider how some healthy coping strategies might allow you the mental freedom to perform at a higher level. You might be able to find more clarity in your ability to aim your attention to the information in front of you to focus on the task at hand. You might be able to make more effective and timely decisions. You might create more space to get out of your bodies way to perform and do what you have trained yourself to do.
High level performance results come and go but a daily practice and approach with a high-level mindset should not. In all pressure packed situations, there are stressors that need to be addressed in order to free yourself up to perform. If you find yourself constantly running into walls while seeking to improve and perform at your best level then you might want to try some of these coping skills to manage some of the stressors in your academic and athletic life.
Take a pause
The next time you start to feel that surge of emotion start to bubble up in your body, take a step back and recognize the sources of stress in your day to day. The first step to working with the stress is recognizing what it is. Self-awareness is the start of all performance improvement.
Learn to Breathe for Performance
If you are having a difficult time gaining clarity when you pause to become aware of where the stress is coming from then perhaps you need to take back control of your brain. When we become too caught up in the acts that sweep us off our feet we can lose control of ourselves. Practicing some breathing techniques such as circle diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, ratio or rhythmic breathing can help you also learn how to aim your attention to the things that matter now.
Put Some Structure Around To-Dos
If you have a lot of school work and a busy schedule (as most student athletes do these days) set aside chunk of times to tackle your work. This requires a little bit of planning and busy work but will pay dividends in your ability to manage stress of each thing at the end of the day. You can decide to work in chunks of time which also include class times, school time, and sport time. This will help you shape your focus and dive deep into whatever it is you are doing. Coaches often say to leave all your non-sport “stuff” at the door to training and this is a great way to do that because you have already created the time to focus on the other things.
Compartmentalize by Putting a Period After that Thought
A great way to manage stressful overthinking, is to use a technique that allows you to stop a line of thinking. Put a period after the thought to stop and then start a new sentence in your thought stream related to the task at hand. It could sound like “I have so much to do. Erica has been acting weird with me too and I don’t know what her deal is. What is going to happen later today with our team… PERIOD.” Then you move your focus to whatever you are doing in that moment. Thoughts might not sound exactly like the example I gave but the idea is the same for whatever your thought stream might be.
I know you have probably heard it a thousand times by now but setting aside 5-10 minutes a day to practice a mindful present act (such as breathing) can give you the mental space you need to feel rejuvenated and refreshed. There are a lot of audio guides available to lead you through the mental practice formally or you can choose to go for a mindful walk or do a chore. Whatever it is practice presence with non-judgement for your wandering mind. Find ways to bring your attention to wherever your feet are in the moment. You can find some practices in the WellU Mental Training app.
After committing to starting with one or two of these ideas over a couple weeks you will find that they fall into place with your daily routine. It is important to additionally manage different aspect of your self-care such as sleep, nutrition, and hydration. Each day can bring unexpected challenges but when you have things under control that you can control then you can manage the uncontrollables much more effectively.