Seven ways to rise above and move beyond the emotional pressures of competition
Competition stress is a real thing. While the Yerkes-Dodson Law suggests a certain amount of stress can improve your performance, like when you’re feeling excited right before you skate onto the ice to do your program and the adrenalin rush helps you achieve your best, too much anxiety can also have the opposite effect. So knowing how to differentiate between nerves of anticipation and the unease of being overwhelmed and then, how to move through these emotions will help you manage the competitive season like the pro you are.
1 BREATHE EASY
One of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety is to slowdown your breathing. “When you are stressed, overwhelmed, worried or something is bothering you, your breathing tends to get fast and shallow,” says Dr. Vinay Saranga M.D., a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry. “This can actually makes you feel worse than you are already feeling.”
ACTION: Focus on slowing down your breathing by inhaling air in through your nose and deep into the diaphragm (your stomach area), holding the breath for a few seconds and slowly exhaling through the lips.
2 BE MINDFULNESS
When you start worrying about preparing for your competition, practicing your program or even talking through the steps you need to take or who you’ll be competing against at the event, stop, regroup your thoughts and remind yourself to practice mindfulness.
ACTION: “This is the act of being present in the moment and in what you are doing in that moment,” says Dr. Saranga. “Immersing yourself in the present moment makes it harder to dwell on the past and worry about the future.” It puts your headspace exactly where it belongs, in the present moment, where you need to refocus your energy.
3 TAKE A BREAK
There’s no doubt the competitive season can take a toll on skaters’ emotions, even the ones with Olympic medals hanging around their necks. You’re human; it’s natural. So when you feel as though it’s all too much to bear, take a break.
ACTION: Go for a walk. Take a drive and turn up the music. Put on your bathing suit and go for a swim. Watch YouTube videos about cats jumping when they encounter a cucumber. Hang out at Starbucks for a half hour and people watch. It doesn’t matter what you do. “When you feel your anxiety levels rising, check out for a few minutes by taking a break from what you’re doing and connect to something that makes you feel good,” affirms Dr. Saranga.
4 AVOID GOSSIP
There’s nothing like a heated debate over which athlete skates better than the next, what so-and-so’s program outfit looks like or how the athletes are being judged harder than you anticipated. “If a topic feels too far out there or if you know that people have very differing points of views, stay away from it,” advises Dr. Saranga.
ACTION: Focus conversations around how you’ve watched Stranger Things so many times you can recite every episode, how you wish Britney Spears would release a new album, why you can’t put down your copy of Scarborough. Reliving memories and other fun and interesting topics is always better than gossiping about someone else or getting into a spicy conversation about who out-skated who.
5 GET OUTSIDE
It’s so easy to get stuck inside your hotel room, the ice rink and the gym. Competitions often take you far away from home and out of your routine, so it’s easy to not know what to do and wind up doing, well, nothing. “Getting some fresh air and a little activity can be good for everyone,” says Dr. Saranga.
ACTION: Think of games to play outside. Go for a bike ride on a city rental bike or for a walk around the block. “A little fresh air can relieve a lot of stress and tension.”
6 COMFORT YOURSELF
If you don’t like large crowds or small talk with the other athletes, rather than worry about it, be kind to yourself with the self-messaging you choose to tell yourself about the situation. “Remind yourself that it’s only a few hours and you can get through it,” advises Dr. Saranga.
ACTION: “Spend time around the people with whom you have the most in common or the ones who don’t stress you out as much,” says Dr. Saranga. “Remember to smile as this not only makes you appear to be enjoying yourself, it really will help you feel better.”
7 STAY ON YOUR MEDS
Many athletes experience mental health strain and are supported by medication. There’s no shame in that. “The [competition] season is not the time to come off your medication, but instead to make sure you’re diligent about taking it,” Dr. Saranga.
ACTION: Follow the plan your doctor has set out for you. Go to bed at the same time each night and aim to get at least seven hours of sleep. Eat well and know, you’re doing what’s best for your mind and your body.
TRAIN THE MIND
Our cover model Gabrielle Daleman takes a break from competition stress by creating a little me-time and listening to her favourite playlist.