I Need You To Re­lax!

A four-step guide to find­ing your stress ‘sweet spot’.

Bicycling (South Africa) - - NEWS - BY SELENE YEAGER

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.

Un­der­stand Stress

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.”

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