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MENTAL TRAINING: Techniques To Reduce Stress II

By Paul Schienberg, PhD

INTRODUCTION: The first article in this series (Techniques to Reduce Stress I), we reviewed Diaphragmatic Breathing and Imagery techniques in reducing stress. It was noted that both can improve the positive impact on lowering stress and anxiety in an athletic situation that is being or will be encountered. This article will introduce more cognitive and physical techniques aimed at the same purposes. Again, remember that not all techniques work equally well for everyone. So, try them out, give them a chance, and keep those that seem to work for you and throw away those that prove to be of no benefit.

COGNITIVE TECHNIQUES: Change your attitude in order to perceive negative events in a positive way! For example, instead of believing that it is going to be difficult to return a fast serving tennis opponent, think about how you can use the pace of his serve to your benefit.

  • Talk to yourself in a positive way! If your team has reached the semi-finals of the basketball tournament for the first time, tell yourself it is do to the improvement in team cohesion, abilities and effort over the course of the season.
  • Visualize positive results instead of imagining failure! An example would be to see yourself getting a great jump on the pitcher, sliding around the shortstop’s tag and hitting second base with your outstretched hand.
  • Be flexible enough to change! If an approach to hitting your golf drive is not working due to deteriorating weather conditions, it is important to be able to consider other clubs that would encounter less problems in keeping the ball in the fairway. Also, if a club just doesn’t seem to be working for you today, leave it in the bag and turn your attention to those that are effective.
  • Never try to be perfect! Perfect is never enough! Since it is impossible to play any athletic event perfectly, you are going to be under constant stress regardless of success or failure. If the only thing that is emotional acceptable is getting a 300 score in bowling, yes, you may get there once, twice, etc, but to expect it every time is debilitating.
  • Take time out from practice! All too often you hear about young great athletes who have burned themselves out by the time they might be reaching their peak. Very often the explanation is the relentless pressure on young minds and bodies.
  • Find the best time for you to work and the best environment! Sometimes athletes find that early morning runs are better than late in the afternoon. Obviously, it might be better to practice during the times and under the conditions that the competition will occur. This will leave you with less stress at the time of the real event.
  • Don’t dwell on the past! Focus on present and future! Most anxiety and stress is caused by obsessing about events of the past and anticipation of problems in the future. Often, the calmest state can be found in the present because there is usually nothing go on that is troubling.
  • Change or avoid negative situations! If you are having struggles communicating with a coach, try to shift the interpersonal dynamics or change coaches. Stress between people is intensified by trying the same old thing with the same people. Try to communicate clearly without hidden agendas.
  • Talk to a fellow athlete or a professional! Sometimes we are too close to the problems we are having in our sport to see what the problem is. We keep trying and think it should be coming out differently. We need someone with objectivity to spot the difficult and offer a solution.

BASIC RELAXATION TECHNIQUES: These techniques can be practice before any athletic event – sitting on the bench, during the national anthem, waiting turn to hit a golf ball, in-between shift changes in hockey, etc. Tense each of the following muscle groups and hold for ten seconds.

  1. Relaxation of arms: Clinch right hand (make a fist) and tense forearm; clinch left hand and tense left forearm. Clinch both right and left hands and forearms; tense right biceps (front of upper arm) by bending right arm at elbow. Tense left biceps by bending left arm at elbow. Tense right triceps (back muscle, upper arm) by stiffening right arm. Tense left biceps by stiffening left arm.
  2. Relaxation of head area: Wrinkle forehead; frown and crease brows. Close eyelids. Close eyelids tightly and keep them closed throughout the remaining exercises. Rotate eyes in clockwise circles – return to center; rotate eyes in counterclockwise circles – return to center. Rotate eyes to the far right. Rotate eyes to the far left. Rotate eyes to the top of the sockets. Wrinkle nose and cheeks. Press lips together tightly (or purse them). Clinch jaws. Press chin against the chest. Press tongue against the roof of the mouth. Begin to swallow, and hold. Tense throat. Tense throat and larynx muscles by humming a high note without making any sounds. Then hum down the scale to a low note.
  3. Relaxation of trunk: First, tense shoulder muscles by bringing shoulders up to your ears. Then, pull the shoulders back and the upper back muscles. Arch lower back and tighten lower back muscles. Then reverse and pull shoulder muscles inward to the front and tighten the chest muscles. Next, tighten your stomach muscles by pulling inward and downward. Tighten pelvic muscles in groin area – like stopping urination in the middle of urinating. Last, tighten your buttocks by pulling them together.
  4. Relaxation of legs: In the following order, tighten right upper leg, left upper leg, both upper legs (pull legs together at knees and straighten legs), tense right calf and shin (raise foot as though to touch leg), left calf and shin, tense right foot and toes followed by left foot and toes.
  5. Intensifying the relaxed state throughout the body.
    1. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Hold it to the count of four and exhale to the count of four.
    2. Repeat this several times. Notice the tension in your chest. As you exhale, notice what happens throughout the body. Let your muscles go further and relax very deeply; go on and deep breathe many times and notice the tension. Notice it go throughout your body.
    3. Breathe deeply and evenly, and enjoy the sensations of warmth, full relaxation. Remember these feelings.