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Wake Up To The Power Of One

The Top 5 Tools and Practices for Stress Management as an Athlete

The pressure to perform at peak levels all the time can often lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. That’s why we believe in honing not just physical strength but mental resilience as well. It’s equally important for optimal performance and optimal well-being. A holistic approach to athletic excellence includes effective stress management strategies.

“Once you are conscious about how you feel, you have an idea of how you can fix it or make it better.” — Garrett Wilson

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Here are our top five recommended tools and practices that can help athletes of any level manage stress, improve focus, and maintain mental health.

Mindfulness Meditation

While you need to be disciplined at first to add mindfulness meditation to your regime, you can reap the benefits in as little as five minutes per day. Some athletes use it at the gym before or after their workouts to get even more from their session, and even Kobe used to meditate daily.

Here are the benefits:
-Enhanced mental clarity
-Reduced anxiety
-Improved emotional regulation

Mindfulness trains the brain to focus on the present moment, which, if you’ve ever been on the line for a make-or-break moment during competition, you know is critical for peak performance.

Here’s how to get started: 

1) Find a quiet place and sit comfortably.
2) Close your eyes and take deep, controlled breaths.
3) Focus on your breath, observing each inhale and exhale.
4) Gently bring your focus back to your breath if your mind wanders.
5) Start with 5-10 minutes daily and gradually increase the duration.
6) OR: Try a YouTube video like this one for a guided experience.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is a unique practice that involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.

Here’s why it can be beneficial to athletes:
-Reduced physical tension and stress
-Promoted state of relaxation
-Enhanced body awareness

As any athlete knows, the more awareness you have for your body, the better and more accurately you can perform.

Here’s how to practice PMR:

1) Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
2) Starting with your toes, tense the muscles for about five seconds.
3) Slowly release the tension and focus on the sensation of relaxation.
4) Move up through each muscle group, from your toes to your head.
5) Practice this for 10-20 minutes daily.

Here’s a helpful YouTube video to walk you through it the first few times. 

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Visualization Techniques

We believe big time in the power of visualizing your way to the podium. Elite athletes widely use this technique to prepare for competitions and training sessions.

The benefits:
-Improved focus
-Reduced anxiety
-Enhanced performance by mentally rehearsing successful outcomes

Visualization isn’t just manifesting. It can help light up and trigger muscle memory, improving your motions and skills in real-time performance.

Practice visualization:

1) Find a quiet space and sit or lie down comfortably.
2) Close your eyes and take deep breaths to relax.
3) Visualize a successful performance in vivid detail, including all senses and emotions.
4) Picture every movement and outcome as positively as possible.
5) Practice this for 10-15 minutes daily, especially before competitions.

Deep Breathing Exercises

Yes, we all breathe all the time, usually without a second thought. However, being able to focus on and control your breath might be the missing ingredient to the athletic performance you’ve been searching for.

Benefits:
-Reduced stress by lowering the heart rate and promoting relaxation.
-Increased oxygen to the brain, improving concentration and energy.

More oxygen = better decision-making, especially if you’re relaxed and thinking clearly about the game or performance.

Here’s how to get started with deep breathing:

1) Sit or lie down comfortably.
2) Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
3) Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four, feeling your abdomen rise.
4) Hold your breath for a count of seven.
5) Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of eight, feeling your abdomen fall.
6) Repeat 4-5 times (or as many as you need) throughout the day—especially before high-stress situations.

Physical Activity Outside of Training

You can't train all the time… Well, you can, but you might go crazy and/or injure yourself by accident. That’s why doing physical activities outside of your regular regime is important! Not only can changing things up balance your body, but it can also keep your motivation high, remind you why you love your chosen sport or activity, and give your regular muscles a break.

The benefits:
-Reduced stress hormones, increased endorphins.
-Improved overall mood and energy levels.
-Mental break from pressure and stress.

Find something you love to do outside of training and dedicate a few times a week to enjoying it! Whether that’s yoga, walking in the park, hiking, or a different kind of fitness class. Take time to focus on the enjoyment and relaxation of your chosen extracurricular rather than the competitive aspects.

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With these five easy-to-implement yet highly effective stress management tools and practices, you’ll be getting your body—and your head—in the game.

“I prepare a certain way mentally, so when I’m out there playing, it’s just another game for me.” — Amon-Ra St. Brown

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