Too much stress and anxiety can seriously affect your ability to focus on your skills and flow in a performance. This section examines the causes of excess stress and anxiety, explains their symptoms and then explains techniques that you can use to manage them.
It is important that you recognise that you are responsible for your own stress levels. Very often they are a product of the way that you think. Learn to monitor your stress levels, and adjust them up if you need more arousal, or down if you are feeling too stressed. Also learn that other people may seek to manipulate your stress levels: if you are feeling stressed and uptight, the last thing you may need is a motivational talk from a coach or manager who may not be able to see your stress.
A certain level of stress is needed for optimum performance. If you are under too little stress, then you will find it difficult to motivate yourself to give a good performance. Too little stress expresses itself in feelings of boredom and not being stretched.
At an optimum level of stress you will get the benefits of alertness and activation that a good level of stress brings.
Excessive levels of stress damage performance and damage your enjoyment of your sport. These excessive levels occur in the following circumstances:
- When you think that what is being asked of you is beyond your perceived abilities
- When too much is asked of you in too short a space of time
- When unnecessary obstacles are put in the way of achieving goals
The negative effects of stress are:
- That it gets in the way of judgement and fine motor control
- It causes competition to be seen as a threat, not a challenge
- It damages the positive frame of mind you need for high quality competition by:
- promoting negative thinking
- damaging self-confidence
- narrowing attention
- and disrupting flow
It consumes mental energy in, for example, worry. This is energy that you could devote to keeping technique good.
Very often stress can be caused by negative thinking as well as being a result of negative thinking: If you interpret a situation saying 'I'm in trouble', then you are much less likely to do well than if you think positively, seeing a new situation as an opportunity to exhibit your skills at a higher level.
Stress and Adrenaline
When you are in a competitive environment or are in an environment in which you are being evaluated, adrenaline may enter your bloodstream.
This has the following positive and negative effects on your body:
- Positive Effects:
- Adrenaline causes physiological arousal
- It causes alertness
- It prepares the body for explosive activity
- Negative Effects:
- It inhibits judgement
- It interferes with fine motor control, and makes executing complex skills difficult.
You will experience the preparatory flow of adrenaline into your body typically as 'Butterflies in your stomach'.
In sports such as shooting where fine motor control is important, adrenaline may be a negative factor. However in sports like sprinting or power lifting, where explosive activity is required, adrenaline may be useful in generating optimum performance.
You may currently view high levels of adrenaline in your body negatively as stress. You may need to review this, perhaps welcoming adrenaline as an aid to your performance. Similarly you might like to consider using 'Psych Up' routines to raise your adrenaline levels if you are not sufficiently aroused.
Anxiety is different from stress. Anxiety comes from a concern over lack of control over circumstances. In some cases being anxious and worrying over a problem may generate a solution. Normally, however, it will just result in negative thinking.
Albert Ellis listed the five main unrealistic desires or beliefs that cause anxiety:
- The desire always to have the love and admiration of all people important to you. This is unrealistic because you have no control over other peoples minds: people can have bad days, can see things in odd ways, can make mistakes, or can be plain disagreeable and awkward.
- The desire to always be thoroughly competent. This is unrealistic because you only achieve competence at a new level by making mistakes. Everybody has bad days and makes mistakes. One of the benefits of training with better athletes is that you can see them making mistakes and having bad days too.
- The belief that external factors cause all misfortune. Often negative events can be caused by your own negative attitudes. Similarly your own negative attitudes can cause you to view neutral events negatively. Another athlete might find something positive in something you view as a problem.
- The desire that events should always turn out the way that you want them to and people should always do what you want. Other people have their own agendas and do what they want to do.
- The belief that everything that has happened in the past will inevitably condition and control what has happened in the future. Very often things can be improved or changed if you try hard enough, or look at things in a different way.
You need mental energy to be able to concentrate your attention and maintain good mental attitudes. If you are concentrating effectively then you can conserve physical energy by maintaining good technique when your muscles are tired, can maintain focus and good execution of skills, and can push and drive your body through pain and fatigue barriers.
You can waste mental energy on worry, stress, fretting over distractions, and negative thinking. Over a long competition these not only damage enjoyment, but also drain energy so that performance suffers.
It is therefore important to avoid these by good use of sports psychology, and by resting effectively between events and by ensuring that you sleep properly.