Stress is universal and something everyone experiences. That being said, there is no question that even the most laid-back, cool, calm and collective athlete cannot escape stress. In fact, not only do athletes have to worry about the basic day to day and emotional stress that most people experience,  they also have to worry about stress associated with training, managing training schedules and competing. So, even if you don’t think you are stressed out, if you’re an athlete you probably already are.

 

To a certain degree stress can actually be beneficial to an athlete. Yes you read that right. This is because a little, manageable amount of stress can not only help sharpen focus, but it can also provide that extra burst of energy that lights a fire under you and pushes you across the finish line. And while in theory, athletes should be able to handle stress better than those who are not athletes, because they are continually trained to handle different levels of stress and pressure, over-training can have the exact opposite effect. Why? This is because the human body does not know the difference between physical, emotional, life and even mental stress. No matter the source, an overload of stress directly affects your hormones, which in turn affects both your metabolism and immune system.

So how can you assess if you are stressed out in a negative way? Simply put: An athlete who is not stressed out, finds their training schedule manageable, performs well and is typically a big bouncy ball of energy.  In comparison, an athlete who is stressed out, will often be tired, lethargic and will show little to no sign of having a competitive edge. These athletes also likely have trouble sleeping, have no appetite or an increased appetite, and appear to get injured or sick with more ease. Common factors that can induce stress in athletes can include:

  • Physical demands from intense training or even a very active, taxing job

  • Psychological demands such as a troubled relationship or a death in the family

  • Expectations, including those that are too high and/or unrealistic

  • Pressure to perform at a too high standard

With a higher prevalence to stress, athletes have to make a point of achieving a good, appropriate balance by building a high level of fitness without going overboard and exceeding their physical and mental thresholds. As mentioned above, because the human body interprets all stress – no matter the source – the same, athletes who want to optimize their performance and feel their very best, should do everything they can to live as stress-free as possible.  And while yes, stress is absolutely impossible to avoid, it can be managed with the right mind and skill set. Outside of managing stress, there are also plenty of healthy ways for athletes to deal with it, such as engaging in activities that make you happy, getting adequate sleep, keeping things in (a positive) perspective, and working on improving strained relationships. Tips on how to manage stress day in and out, both physical and mental stress include keeping the following in mind:

  • A common mistake athletes often make is to train too hard or too fast and sometimes both. To the contrary, training should be gradually ramp up in effort and time to make sure the body can handle the increase in training load.

  • In addition, as you progress, you should only increase your training load in carefully planned increments, as well as incorporate rest in-between as you go.

  • When you can, cross train. This helps break the monotony of a vigorous training schedule, especially if you choose another sport you truly enjoy. By doing this you ensure that the overall health benefits of remaining active are still being realized, and this also involves a mental break from  the repetition of training.

  • I know it sounds corny but… Practice yoga or get a massage. Both help relax the muscles and overall allow your body to truly let go and relax.

  • Laugh. Yes really! Find something you enjoy and that makes you laugh. Laughing can boost your spirits and raise your mood better than any medicine in existence.

More: 4 Tips for Turning Swimming into a Moving Meditation

Because there is no way to completely rid your life of the stress, the best way to deal with it is to manage it by trying to limit the amount of stress you are exposed to. If you sense stress is high in one facet of your life such as work or school, consider ways to properly manage it such as speaking with your supervisor about getting help with your workload, or even consider looking into another avenue of employment. In addition, monitor your eating and sleeping patterns, because these have a direct effect on stress. If you’re not eating well and barely sleeping, your body will be highly stressed. Keeping up with your healthy habits, mindset and schedule will help keep your stress level in check, stress will more easily roll off your back, and overall you’ll just plain feel better.

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