Mental Strength (Part 3)

Written By: Heather
Heather Kempton Coquitlam Couples Counsellor

Performing Under Pressure

Whether it is completing your first athletic performance at a practice or in a game situation there are perceived levels of pressure that athletes place upon themselves. Performing under an optimal level of pressure can be described as having a strong incentive to perform to your best ability without feeling anxious or overwhelmed. There have been many articles written by sports psychologists that discuss three levels of perceived pressure during an athletic performance. For instance, having minimal pressure can cause one to underperform by causing the athlete to push not as hard, feeling less engaged or fired up during the athletic performance. When placed in a high pressure environment one is most likely to exhibit a “dominant response” where your ability to perform skills you feel confident about improves, while your execution of skills you feel less comfortable with are performed worse. It is in this instance that our mental dialogue can provide us with a huge advantage by learning how to maintain a certain level of calmness and self-belief. Learning which state of mind we perform best in (focused, angry, happy etc.) attached with mental/physical cues to help snap one into that mindset is key. Combining mental and physical strength during an athletic performance will help you to achieve your optimal level of performance while under pressure.

Stress Response

Stress is a normal physical response to events real or imagined that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones rouse the body for emergency action, with your heart pounding faster, blood pressure rising, breath quickening, muscles tightening and your senses becoming sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, enhancing your focus and speeding up your reaction time in order to prepare you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you by helping you to stay focused, energetic and alert. However, with the inability to manage your stress, it can start causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships and quality of life.

Stress Management

The first step to managing your stress is to learn how to recognize the physiological and psychological signs when your stress levels begin to spiral out of control. Without this awareness stress can begin to feel familiar and even normal in such a way that you don’t notice how much it is affecting you. The signs and symptoms of stress overload will affect your mind, body and behavior in many different ways, showing up differently in each individual.

Cognitive Symptoms – Constant worry, negative perspective, poor judgment, anxious or racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, or memory problems.

Emotional Symptoms – Irritability or short temper, feeling overwhelmed, sense of loneliness, isolation, agitation, inability to relax, moodiness, or depression.

Physical Symptoms – Poor immune system (frequent colds), loss of sex drive, nausea, dizziness, aches/pains, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or diarrhea/constipation.

Behavioural Symptoms – Nervous habits (nail biting, fidgeting), social isolation, change in eating habits, change in sleeping habits, change in exercise habits, using substances to relax/feel good, procrastinating, or neglecting responsibilities.

Many health problems are caused or exacerbated by stress. This may include such things as sleep problems, digestive problems, obesity, depression, physiological or psychological pain, heart disease, hormonal deregulation, skin conditions and autoimmune diseases. It is important to learn how to identify your stress tolerance level and how to manage stress.

Managing your stress is all about increased awareness, learning how to manage your thoughts, emotions, and behaviour, resolving conflict, effective communicating, identifying self-care methods, and managing your environment.

Stress Tolerance Level

Stressors are things that place high demands on you and may appear in negative events such as an exhausting work schedule or an abusive relationship, as well as in positive events such as the birth of a new baby or buying a new house. Every individual has a different tolerance level based on their perspective of such events and their ability to cope with life stressors. Things that may influence your stress tolerance level are your attitude and outlook, knowledge and preparation, ability to deal with your emotions, sense of control, and your support network.

It is important to ask yourself these questions in order to increase your awareness of how stress may be affecting you.

Do I know how to increase my energy when it is low?

Can I recognize when I am feeling distracted or moody?

Do I have a positive social network such as family or friends that I lean on for support?

Do I know how to relax and practice self care?

Can I easily let go of negative emotions?

Can I recognize stress in myself and others?

If life has become too stressful and you would like to learn healthier ways to cope with your stress, send me an email or give me a call to see how I can help.

In the last part of this four part series I will be speaking about how tapping into your resiliency with positive self-talk will increase your overall mental strength. Please feel free to contact me directly through email, text, or phone if you would like to discuss how I could help you to take your overall performance in life to the next level.