Stress: unless you live a truly blessed life, everyone suffers from it. While stress is a different experience for everyone, sport psychologists have had a long interest in how athletes encounter, feel, avoid, and cope with stress. Although stress most definitely isn’t limited to athletes, much of the research done in these studies can be used by anyone!
It is important to consider the more common root causes of stress. One popular model in sport psychology is the stress and injury model from Andersen and Williams (1988). This model splits everyday stressors into two main categories: major life events and daily hassles.
Major life events are significant, often life-changing experiences like a divorce, the death of a loved one, or possibly a lost job. Research has shown that these events can play on our minds not only through anxiety and depression, but they can narrow our attention, contribute to sleeping problems, and even deplete our coping resources over time.
Daily hassles includes situations like spilt coffee, that annoying coworker, and even bad traffic. While certainly not as serious as major life events, the additive effect of these minor stressors throughout our day can have similar effects: anxiety, depression, and an inability to concentrate (which can lead to even more frustration through the day!).
The real question: How can we better cope with this stress, reducing our risk for these harmful effects? Sport psychologists have identified a few important ways we can decrease our stress levels and our body’s response to that stress. The best part is that anyone can use these strategies!
Cognitive techniques can help you manage stress by targeting your thoughts and perceptions like worry, anxiety, or pessimism. These strategies often help us react more calmly to stressors. Visualization and imagery are two popular cognitive techniques, and positive self-talk, cognitive restructuring, and refocusing can also help calm your mind!
Somatic techniques attempt to calm the body’s response to stress. Classic examples are deep or rhythmic breathing. More recently, progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback training have seen an increase in popularity.
Decreasing stress can have a huge effect on your performance, whether you are trying to improve results at work, in sports, in public speaking, in school, or in any other area of life! In our upcoming posts, we’ll talk more about how stress can impact your performance.
Carolina Performance Intern
Master’s Student, Sport & Exercise Psychology at UNC-Greensboro
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