Stress and the Athlete -The Myth of “I can handle it”

Stress is a fascinating subject area. People talk a lot about “all the stress” they are under or “how stressful” life is. Some people walk around in a perpetual state of being “stressed”.

Stress itself has good and bad properties. Physically – without some stress on the body we become a blubbering piece of flab. It is what gives us strength and bone density for instance. Mentally – we know boredom is on one side of the spectrum and bouncing off walls stressed out is on the other side. It is somewhere in between that we thrive. It is also true that everyone needs some reprieve from stress – recovery time. Consistent high stress wears us down.

Some athletes believe that stress outside their sport is separate from their sport and that they “can handle” it. Stress knows no bounds. It will spill over from “life” if you do not learn to handle it.

Here’s the really funny- cool thing. Stress is only what we do to ourselves! It is subjective (What is stressful to one person isn’t to another.). It is also unique to the individual (We each suffer stress symptoms differently uniquely).

It is folly to believe that the stress we experience in life is somehow separate from athletic performance. If you get yourself “stressed out” in life, you will inevitably feel it in your athletic performance. You will break down. You will increase your likelihood of injuries and illness (ya, tons of research on this). That is because the physical stress reaction to our mental interpretation of events yields tension in muscles and a compromised immune system.

I know everyone is “wired” differently. High strung people have a harder time with this than more laid back individuals. But, the bottom-line is that we control what goes on in our heads.

      • Nobody makes us stressed.
      • Nobody gets us angry.
      • Interpretations happen in our minds.
      • We are only influenced – not controlled – by all these outside events.

Learning how to control your stress reactions starts in your mind. If you can master your stress reaction (aka stress management) in life in general then you will be able to do so in the athletic world as well. If you cannot handle life-stress, the odds of you magically handling it in the face of race anxiety is doubtful.

    1. The first step is recognition of your reactions. If you don’t know the situations that trigger your thoughts and you cannot recognize when you’re thinking in “one of those ways” you cannot change it.
    2. Once you can do that you need to regroup – take a deep breath and realize you are doing this to yourself and you can stop.
    3. Stress usually revolves around lamenting the past, mind reading and anticipating the future. Refocus on what you control. You control YOU. You control YOU in the PRESENT.
    4. This is called using the 3-Rs: Recognize, Regroup, Refocus. Use this in life and in sports. This is one of the basic skills I teach all my mental game clients. This must be mastered.

Have you ever been so totally absorbed with something that time just went by; that all else disappeared into the background? It is because you were completely associated with the here and now. It is that kind of focus that is required to stop your stress response. Get absorbed (focused) in something other than your stress trigger!

With practice you can do this. It doesn’t happen without practice though. You have a choice – continue to be stressed out and allow it to run your life and compromise your athletic performance; or take control back and not be a victim to old reactions and thoughts to those triggers.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Stress and the Athlete -The Myth of “I can handle it”

  1. Pingback: Stress and the Athlete -The Myth of “I can handle it” (via The Running World According to Dean) « Gary B. Smith

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