I Need You To Relax!
A four-step guide to finding your stress ‘sweet spot’.
Stress is a misunderstood human condition. Too much or too little can derail your riding; but just the right amount can boost your performance. Here’s a fourstep plan to ensure you hit your stress sweet spot.
Happy athletes go faster: on one hand, that’s common sense, says sports psychologist Kristin Keim. “When things are going well, and you’re in a good headspace and you’re happy, everything – including racing and training – seems easier,” she says.
But getting there is tough. “That’s more complicated, because it’s very personal and multi-layered – including the influence of training, racing, family, relationships, jobs, recovery, hormones, and so many other factors in your life,” says Keim.
We tend to think of stress as negative. But there are all kinds of stress, and they’re not all bad.
Stress, as we know it, is a cascade of hormones – including adrenaline, glutamate, dopamine, and the ‘ stress hormone’ cortisol – that keys us up to get stuff done (also known as the ‘ fight or flight’ response).
As cyclists, we tap into this system all the time – and of course, life in general also forces us to fire it up.
But chronically elevated cortisol can make you a metabolic mess: disrupting sleep, suppressing your immunity, and even priming you to gain weight. If everything is overwhelming and the bike isn’t even fun anymore, you need to manage your stress.
Identify Your Stressors
“There’s stress, and there’s eustress,” says Keim. And ‘eustress’ is the good stuff.
“What most people fail to see is that it’s your perception that makes stress positive or negative,” Keim adds. “Stress doesn’t just happen to us. We create it, and we frame it, and we react to it. It’s all dependent on how we process what’s happening.”
Training rides can be eustress: they motivate you, make you happy, and ultimately, de-stress you at work. But putting pressure on yourself to ride every day? Negative stress. Expecting to hit certain power numbers every ride? Negative stress.
“You have control of that. Plan days off the bike – like when life gets crazy – and ride by feel rather than numbers some days. Adjust your training to find that stress ‘sweet spot’,” says Keim.
Build a Happiness Toolkit
Of course, you can’t control everything in your life. Babies still wake up in the middle of the night, and there are always event- day nerves. That’s why you need to create a happiness toolkit. In it, you should keep your manageable objectives, mindfulness techniques, and planned fun.
“Be less outcome- oriented, and focus more on being grounded where you are,” says Keim. Instead of focusing on the end goal, stay present – set mini- goals, assess what’s going on, and focus on taking small steps and meeting smaller objectives that build towards that goal.
And plan your fun. “Plan a big, fun bike trip that has nothing to do with performance,” says Keim. “It’s important to have ‘ happiness watts’ in your plan.”