We all deal with stressful situations in our lives, but Olympic athletes probably have more experience with high-stakes situations than the rest of us. From watching the Rio Olympics on TV, the athletes looked so calm that it was hard to tell they were nervous at all. They made flips, jumps, and sprints look like a walk in the park.
Exuding an aura of strength and determination is an essential part of succeeding in competitive sports, but under the surface, athletes get anxious just like the rest of us. The only difference is that they have proactively learned to manage their stress.
Outside of competitive sports, many people are reticent to admit that they sometimes face stressful situations. They see stress as a sign that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or talented enough. As a result, they choose to ignore stress or deny when they are feeling anxious about a high-pressure situation. Unfortunately, ignoring something like stress doesn’t usually make it go away. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Stress builds up and compiles until people hit a breaking point where they fall apart emotionally or they compromise their immune system and get sick. In the long term, prolonged periods of stress lead to even greater health issues.
To effectively manage stress and protect your health, take a lesson from Olympians and view stress as an unavoidable challenge that people can overcome. Just like when facing their competitors, Olympians tackle stress head-on and practice the best ways to beat it.
Try the following three stress-management tips:
1) Take control of your breathing. You can see many athletes take a controlled, deep breath before they spring into action. From starting a tumbling pass, to shooting a free throw, Olympians actively use their breath to calm their nerves. It’s an easy way to send your body a sign that everything is going to be OK.
2) Control your thoughts in the time leading up to a big challenge. Track and Field athlete Sanya Richards-Ross does this before her races. “When I feel really stressed, the first thing I do is soak in a long bath,” she said. “I love to read, it kind of quiets my mind.”1
3) Meditate. Volleyball superstar Kerry Walsh-Jennings makes the sport look easy, but she knows she has to bring her mental game as well as her physical game. “If my mind isn’t there, my body’s not going to perform… I’m really working on being mindful and meditating. Some of these words are still considered taboo, but I like to take time to be quiet even if it’s just for six to ten minutes.”2
Even if you don’t have the game of your life on the horizon, these three tips can help you acknowledge stress, practice dealing with it, and find the solutions that work best for you.