Managing Stress as an Athlete | E122

April is Stress Awareness Month and we all know that stress isn’t going anywhere, especially aggravated by the pandemic. In this episode, Lewis aims to build awareness of your own stress and how to properly manage it as well as the four types of stress that people experience.

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[01:08] Eustress and Destress

[05:57] The Four Types of Stress: Physical

[15:42] The Four Types of Stress: Mental

[21:35] The Four Types of Stress: Emotional

[23:19] The Four Types of Stress: Social

[25:12] Managing Stress

[28:53] Closing Notes


So April has been branded as Stress Awareness Month. And while we know that stress is not going anywhere, after April, the title of it stress awareness is quite apt because this is what I want. This podcast is about. And ultimately, if there’s anything that you can get out of this episode would be about building your awareness of your stress.

Not we all know that stress exists. We know that right now the pandemic has created a world in which we are so aware of stress. We are so aware of what is going on and how much that is impacting us, whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally or more. So this podcast, the ultimate goal that I would love to get from to the end of this would be that you just build your awareness around it.

You just become understanding. You learn a little bit more about where you feel your stress. And then ultimately we can talk about some things that you can use to reduce it. Before we go on to the four types of stress that I have highlighted, there will be more. But I just want to talk about something that I have mentioned in a previous podcast, which was a podcast where I spoke about not all stress is bad stress.

And in that episode, I mentioned the two types of stress that you can get, which are stress and de-stress. And it’s just worth mentioning that even in these four categories that I’ll mention, you stress and de-stress, sit in that around that wherever you want to think because we can have two different types of stress. You stress, which is stress that is good for us and de-stress, which is stress that negatively impacts us So and in both of those categories, you can have acute or chronic.

So essentially for acute and chronic, you stress acute and chronic distress. So you can have either one of those acute stress might be having a workout, putting your body under some sort of stress, lifting weights that stresses the muscles, stresses the ligament, stresses the tendons, but ultimately allows them to adapt and come back stronger and has that positive impact chronic you stress would be something like a have it would be a sustained period of a lifestyle essentially that has a positive impact on your well-being.

And then de-stress is the complete opposite of that. So acute stress might be an injury that you sustain. It’s just in a short period. It’s very quick hopefully very quick and eventually, you recover. Chronic de-stress. Is this where I think a lot of us are spending our time, which is spending time in this area of stress over and over a perpetual cycle of stress and habits and situations that we find ourselves in that don’t allow us to drum a jump out of this fight or flight mode and put us in a very stressful situation.

And they have a hugely detrimental effect on us, whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally or beyond. But it’s worth noting those two different types because, in all of the categories that I’ll talk about, there will be some good stress that you can put in. There will also and there’s also a loss of Basra’s most of this podcast will be speaking about stress in a negative light because that’s the majority of what we feel.

But we can also mention around that there may be areas where you need to add a little bit more stress to stimulate yourself a little bit more, to push yourself a little bit harder to create that adaptation, to create that growth that you are looking for. So let’s talk about these four different categories I have highlighted physical, mental, emotional and social.

There will be more, I’m sure, and there’ll be different categories that people put into it. But I just want to highlight those four and I just want to talk about those four, because I think they have prevalent in an athlete’s lifestyle in an athlete’s world. And there will be some that you feel more than others.

And like I said, the ultimate goal from this podcast is noticing out of those four categories the level of stress that you feel, bringing that awareness to that stress. Where do you feel the stress most in your life? Perhaps there’s some interlink. You might have social stress that impacts your physical, mental, your emotional stress levels and health.

So just building that awareness and having the idea of like, okay, where which part of this of my life and my feeling that stress and what can I do to improve it? And, and maintain. Or if you’re if perhaps you have a good level of stress levels and you feel pretty low, what is the um, what are the things I can maintain doing to keep that going?

So physical is exactly what is in the ten anything that you feel impacts your body with stress. So a workout is impacting your body with stress. A workout program is stressing your body over a while, a competition, a match, an event is stressing your body over time and most of us live in this world when I was growing up, I was always told, to push yourself harder, push harder, go further, and stretch yourself more, because that’s the adaptation you need to get there.

I think we now live in a world where we are aware that that messaging doesn’t perhaps work out. We’re seeing the effects later on in life, whether that’s through injury, illness, disease, or whatever it might be of this chronic stress that we are feeling because of these messages. We have been told ourselves over time. So that message is changing.

And I hope this podcast will help change your perhaps your view that that whole adage of pushing yourself harder is always going to lead down a road that you don’t want to go down. You don’t want to get there because it’s going to take away from the thing that you love doing and that’s what you don’t want.

So your physical stress will be the perhaps overtraining that you do, perhaps the training through injury, pushing yourself beyond your boundaries and maybe even eventually hurting yourself. If there’s anything that I would say about all of these levels of stress is that there’s a ceiling to all of it, there will be something that will happen. If you look at your stress as this growth curve, that or this graph line that every time you do something, you bump it up a little bit and the higher you go, the worse it gets.

So you bump your stress up, you might do a workout, and it goes up a little bit. But then you go to sleep and it drops down a little bit and you go back down. You never go back down to baseline because you perhaps haven’t done enough to manage your stress. But then you go the next day for another workout or two workouts or you do a game and it impacts stress and it just keeps going up and up and up.

Never if you don’t manage your stress properly, it gets back down to a sustainable level or an easy level. What will happen are you just build-up, up and up. And then eventually you hit a point where you can’t take anymore and something catastrophic will happen. That could be an injury that could be a mental health issue.

It could be like a breakdown. You could have an emotional breakdown, you could have a social interaction that has stressed you out for so long that you flip at someone and you break away from a group or something like that negatively impacts you. Just really hits a level where you can’t go any further. That’s why this whole podcast again, is about just making sure you’re maintaining a low level of stress even after you have stressed yourself because we do know that you do need to stress yourself.

So on your physical side, this could look like and manifest itself like you’re not taking enough recovery days, you’re not taking enough time to look after your body to recognize some warning signs of when you’ll be coming overtired, overtrained, or are you taking recovery days or you’re taking taper weeks, or you’re taking a week where you’re reducing your workload that allows you to bring that stress level back down, allows you to recover, regenerate, grow, and then move forward.

They’re mentally demanding because you want to be doing more. But some things will pay off in the future. I think of my running training that I’ve been doing, where I usually go to a three to one ratio of work going through like a training program of periodization for three weeks and then having one-week tapering and then doing another three weeks and then tapering again.

And just keep doing that. And usually, now I’ve got to a place whereby the end of that third week, my body is already telling me we’re due to taper week here. We’ve ready to go hit, take the pedal, take the gas off a little bit, and we’re going to pull back for the next week. And then that fifth week after that fourth, which is the take about fifth, we come back even stronger.

So being able to tune into your body, understand I understand some warning signs is a really important part of managing and building that awareness of your stress. How can you do that? I’m obviously a big proponent of things like yoga and stretching. And the reason being is because after you have done it, you feel the difference. You notice the difference in your body, you notice the difference in stress.

And the more you do that, you can notice when you’re kind of in stress and out of stress. So the more you practice the ability to tune into the body, it would be called the mind body connection, if that’s too we were is literally you having your mind having an understanding of where your bodies are and your body sending the signals to your mind and you rely on and you really connecting that so that you understand each other.

They understand each other so that when your body is telling you something, you register it, you see it, you hear it and you feel it. And that is through practice of going into the body. Whether that could be through something like yoga, it could be breathwork, even a simple meditation where you do a body scan you just check in with where do you feel that tension in the body?

Where can you perhaps breathe and relax and actively allow that tension to release it? Is it like a night and day process? Like someone flicks on a switch when you realize the difference you feel in the body, you notice the the sensations in the body and you notice all of that dissipating. And once you’ve become aware of it, it’s something that you can use and you will tune in to on a daily basis and you will over and over again be able to recognize some warning signs, even to the point where you might be able to stop yourself getting injured.

You may stop yourself hitting that ceiling, hitting that breaking point in physical stress. An example I gave a story I would give is I was playing a game of cricket. Everyone will know I’m a cricketer. If you’ve been a listener of this podcast, and I was running in and bowl in this bowl and I felt a very weird sensation.

It wasn’t something that was catastrophic. It was really weird. Sensation in my my hamstring. I’ve told my hamstrings multiple times and I had been practicing yoga for probably the last year or two prior to that and I recognized that something was up with that hamstring at that time. And I said to my captain, I said, If I run in all this next ball, my hamstring is going to tear.

It’s not torn yet, but it’s going to tear. It’s suddenly become weaker. It’s there’s something not right with it. I need to go get this checked out. Sure enough, I jump off the field. I went and so my physio, my physio referred me to get scanned and I had a a bigger than like a micro. It was a very small tear that was just about to happen.

I just caught it and it meant that I’d only I was only going to spend about two, three, maybe four days not doing my job and not doing my sport rather than if I’d ball down explore. I potentially was looking at something like four to six weeks out from the sport. So in having the awareness in my body, I was able to stop myself.

Yes, I’ve unfortunately had to stop that game, but I was then able to play the game next week and week after because I’d looked after my body in that moment. I hadn’t pushed it too hard. I hadn’t gone so far that caused damage. And if I really look at it mentally, I was in a better place from that because I was alright.

I had some challenges on that day of trying to convince people that this was I needed to come off, even though I didn’t look injured. I needed to come off because I was worried about what was going to happen in the future. I had three, four, five games coming up and I wanted to play them, so I had to take a hit that day and go through that.

But it saved me in the long run. Really did save me in the long run. But if your opinion would be to run through it and go hard, go home, I would have snapped that hamstring in that next ball and I potentially would have been in a lot longer layoff and God knows where that injury could have gone.

So just by simply bringing that awareness to the body, understanding how your body feels can help you manage that stress. And the last thing I would say is, is training a schedule, having a training schedule, understanding are you kind of just training on a whim? Are you putting together a bit of a process that allows you to recognize what your loads look like and then have a look see if there’s breaks in there, see if there’s recovery days that you are prioritizing as well when you’re scheduling them into your training program so that you are at least dropping that level of stress, you’re bringing that graph line back down so that you can push it again the next day. It’s not about not pushing yourself when you’re training, it’s about being able to do it on a consistent basis, being able to keep going and not pushing too hard, too much in a short space of time and then crashing and then spending days out. It’s about being able to just chip away, chip away, chip away, because then you can start to improve in your skills and your physicality and everything that you’re trying to to do in your sport.

So those would be some of my piece of advice for the physical stress that you may have. There’ll be some other things that you can do and feel free to contact me if there’s something that definitely works for you. I’d love to hear what works well for you on a physical basis. And you know what an all of these that we are going to talk about.

Let’s move on to mental now. Mental stress, 100% is the thing that we are all feeling right now. The pandemic is causing it on a catastrophic scale, a pandemic scale in itself. The pandemic of mental health that we are feeling is huge. It’s I don’t even think we’re at a stage now where we we are unaware of it.

People will often use the phrase like we talk about mental health. It’s becoming more of an it is being talked about, that is for sure, mental health, mental stress, the impact it has on us, the impact that it has on the body and and and inflammation is just real so there are so many different areas within this that we can talk about.

And there’s so many different areas that you could go into. I’m not going to go into everything because it is is a huge subject that will take days. But there are obviously a range of things that you will feel mentally as an athlete that will be stressing you out. That could be not switching off. It could be overthinking of performances.

It would be overanalyzing self-doubt, lack of self confidence, and perhaps there are some there are some also some good things that you will get out of your your mental stresses that you feel by having these tough experiences, by having moments of of hardship, they can build some resilience within you. Definitely. But what we are going to be talking about is the impact of just the chronic side of the stress is impacting you and in order to do that, we’re going to go back to it.

Just be aware, build your awareness around where your mind is at any moment that could be in the moment of a sport that you’re playing. It could be in the moment of performance and most importantly, it could be after because being able to decompress outside of your sport away from it is super vital for being able to be sharp when you’re on it.

So if you are taking performances, if you’re taking training, if you’re taking everything away and home with you, you’re really not giving yourself that time to switch off. But it all starts from that awareness. It all starts from your awareness of where your mind is at any one time. You can’t be aware of the stress that you’re feeling in your mind if you are not aware of it, if you’re not taking the time to become aware of it, if you’re not taking the time to see it, to hear it, to write it down.

So it could be practicing something like meditation and letting the thoughts come and go and noting them practice that I had done was kind of merging mindfulness meditation and journaling, where you sit there, you wait for a thought to come down. Then you write it down, then you sit and you wait and you wait for the next one to come in and then you write it down.

By the end of it, you will have this list of things that are in your mind and they become real. You look at them, you can challenge them. You can see if they’re true, whether they’re just a story that you’re telling yourself. And ultimately, is there anything you can take action with that will allow you to feel at ease?

Because once you’ve become aware of your thoughts, once you’ve taken the time to see them, you can take action. And that action may be, Can I control this and do something about it, or is it something that I’m focusing on I can’t control? Therefore, you’re going to need to go to accepting it. And the sooner you can do that, the more you can build that ability to do that, the better you’re going to be managing that stress level.

You just become faster at it. You’ll be better at having a stress hit you. Maybe it be a thought and emotion, anything someone said to you, and you’ll be able to reframe it quicker. You’ll be able to see it, take action and reframe it and then move it on and it will allow you to de-stress. It could be just taking the time to move away from what you’re doing your sport, your activity, your performances, and going in, doing something and giving yourself something else to occupy your mind.

Breaking up and compartmentalizing what you do is super important to making sure that the thing that you care about most is that its best. Maybe, perhaps you’re feeling a lack of motivation, and that could be stressing you out as well. So taking some time to look back at some past experiences that you’ve gone through, look at people that you admire and what they’ve gone through.

Look at the feedback you’re getting from your coaches. Can you find might be not even me coaches? It could be friends, family, listening to what you’re telling yourself, the self-talk that you have and how you emotionally film will get onto the emotions side as well. But building up that motivation that will allow you to reduce that stress, reduce the anxiety around your performances, around what you’re doing, and you just gaining that awareness is the ultimate goal here.

Just building your awareness around where your thoughts are at any one time and flexing that awareness muscle, strengthening that awareness muscle. Because the more we do it, the better we become. Taking action, moving past those emotions that we’re feeling those those anxieties that stress that we’re feeling and getting to a place where we can do something about it.

So I can’t really I’m not going to go into too much more about mental stress because there’s just so many areas. But just taking some time to to perhaps sit with your thoughts using meditation, it could be using journaling to put them down on paper. It could also be about expressing it to other people, talking to others through your experiences and and allowing them to become real.

Because once you’ve put them out there, whether you’re, whether that’s viewing them internally, through something like meditation, viewing them physically on a piece of paper or verbally expressing them, you start to make them real. You start to take the power away from those thoughts and you bring the power back to yourself because you can start to do something about them.

So give those a go on. I really do hope those those help because I’ve felt the difference in my own practice and I’m sure you will to the emotional stress that we feel emotional is anything that’s obviously impacting you on an emotional level. And this one would probably link both to your mental and your physical. There’s a great book called The Body Keep Score, and the book talks about how trauma and experiences can manifest themselves in the body.

And I’d argue as well in the mind. But noticing your emotions, how do your emotions make you feel? What is it that perhaps people have said to you might be setbacks? You’ve had successes that you’ve had those emotions. How do they make your body feel if they’re good emotions? Like how do they make you feel? What how can you bring more of that in if it’s a negative setback, how does that make you?

Why do you feel that you feel it in your self-talk? What you’re saying to yourself? Is it in your thoughts or your feelings is it in your body? Perhaps you feel tension in a certain area, even with just tuning into that emotion, just recognizing them, giving them the credit that they’re there worth, not pushing them aside, builds your awareness, and again, goes back to that place where you can actually do something about it.

So it could be you feel emotionally stressed about something, so you might go and train, you might go and have a walk, you might go and do some yoga, some light stretching, you might do a meditation practice, you might go and read a book, see a friend get out there that allows you to take control of that emotional stress by doing something more positive for you.

And putting yourself into a much better place. So that’s really where emotional stress will come in and just noticing where it affects you. Lastly, is social stress. So this will be anything that your environment, your surroundings, your tribe, your colleagues, your teammates, your family, your friends, the impact that they have on you, the environment, that that that has a new now sometimes getting out of an environment, if it’s negatively impacting you can be difficult.

So I would argue to say, can you change that environment you’re in can you be the one that can positively impact that environment in the way that you want? Because not always can we change the environment and we feel stuck and you can stress us out because it’s not being done the way we want it. So can you be the catalyst for change?

Can you be the one that can improve that situation? So if you feel like your environment is is not conducive to how you want to be and to reduce in that stress, or is causing some stress, can you be the one to stick your hand up? Not everyone may think the same way as you, and that’s okay. But you do need to be able to say to yourself, okay, I want to surround myself with the right people.

So if after a period of time it’s perhaps not there, then you may want to look for people in different social circles. If it’s a new set of friends or someone, a particular friend in general that you know doesn’t build your stress level up, you’ve become aware of it, then spending more time with them, spending more time with people that you really enjoy spending time doing things with those people that you really enjoy.

So that would be ultimately what that social pressure and stress could look like. And I’m sure there’s so many different ways. And if you do have a way in which you felt social pressure or even social stress in a way that you’ve got reach out and there’s no I’d love to hear how you how you manage that. So that’s really the four categories and a few things that you can do in order to manage that stress.

So it is really worthwhile noticing the risks that potentially are there if you don’t manage your stress, chronic stress, acute stress, anything that’s negatively impacting else obviously can have a sustained change. There are so many things out there now that are talking about how stress can go down to impacting all of physical health, physical wellbeing and a long term basis.

If we do not manage our stress, yes, we we will not see an impact in the in the present, in the immediate future but we could see some really detrimental things happening in the future. And in the longer term there are a lot of studies being done around stress and inflammation around diseases. And there’s so much out there, there’s so many good podcasts and people to listen to.

It doesn’t change with athlete’s all stress levels are high. We are putting a lot of stress on ourselves. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure, but if you are unable to manage them, they may not. They may be stopping you from achieving your full dreams from your full potential physically, mentally, emotionally. And if you do not have strategies in place that could you could risk, again, like I’ve said, a physical injury and mental injury and emotional injury down the road.

So it’s super important that you do have something in place that you manage your stress with. And my advice would be try many different things, try everything, just keep turning over every rotten till you find that thing that, you know, lowers that stress. But ultimately, like I’ve mentioned in this podcast, it is about finding that awareness, that awareness of where do you feel that stress most?

Do you feel it physically, mentally, emotionally or socially? Where do you feel it? What can you do in those areas? I’ve given some some tips, but there are many out there. Go research it, go look for this stuff yourself. Go search out what you can do in order to bring it, because the sooner you can bring your stress levels under control, you’re going to be a better person for yourself and also those around you.

There may be some habits that you have, you have in place and perhaps even some personal traits and characteristics that you ultimately don’t like about yourself that are being caused by this perpetual stress. I know that when I was injured and felt physically tensing my body, I was short that with people. I was I had a quicker temper.

My more I was I was quick to react and just taking the time to feel that level of stress and do something about it changed the way I was interacting with people then it went onto the field and been able to make clearer decisions under pressure because I could feel that stress building and you can turn it off and or reduce it and seeing be clearer through it.

So noticing when that happens, it just allows you to perform in a much bigger and better scale because you’ve started to notice your stress, notice some some warning signs and then put into action. Some places you might be breathing techniques and taking that moment to take that breath when you need it most to be calm, be focused when you’re feeling stressed out so that you impact yourself and those around you could be your team a performance and have a positive impact on everything around you.

So that’s everything I’ve got. If there’s anything that you have, any questions about, anything that you find that you do that manages your stress, well, reach out. You can find me over on Instagram. Lewis Actually, it ticked up at Lewis on the scroll it you can also find the podcast and get in touch Lewis hatchet dot com forward slash podcast but once again thank you so much for joining and listening to this week’s episode.

I will see you guys next time