I've been learning about acute stress, the fight or flight response, and performing under pressure. Today I am going to address every day stress - the kind that can destroy your health and negatively effect your soccer performance causing you to hate not only soccer, but life in general. Take a deep breath, Im exaggerating a tad. Did I just stress you out? Lets undo that, shall we?
Low grade chronic stress
Chronic stress is that anxious feeling we get that is more common than ever due to the way things work in the modern world. The body still interprets things like an exam or daily anxiety over social pressures or again performance in soccer matches as fight or flight and the adrenal glands pump pump out a stress hormone called cortisol.
"Cortisol serves many important functions, including the rapid release of glycogen stores for immediate energy. But persistent cortisol release requires that other vital mechanisms effectively shut down – immunity, digestion, healthy endocrine function, and so on. Among other stress-health associations, the link between elevated cortisol and weight gain has already been established."
Having a dump of cortisol in response to an attack or skydiving or a huge soccer game doesn't wreak havoc on our bodies, but constantly elevated cortisol is not healthy. Its that up all night tossing and turning feeling that isn't just excitement but more like anxiety that is the problem.
Here are some proven ways to help reduce chronic daily stress:
1. Label Stress Differently
Labeling stress as bad is also going to stress us out, so we will avoid that. Stress can also be good, and I love the saying "talent through trauma". Or as Viktor Frankl said, "What is to give light must endure burning". The famous philosopher Nietzsche said the famous line "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger". I also like the idea of stress being misdirected energy or energy that needs an outlet. Let those be your mantras and turn that stress into a positive force.
2. Focused Breathing or Meditate
Breathing is proven to help reduce stress. and enhance calm. Focus on nasal breathing and a great one is inhaling for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, and exhaling for 4 seconds. The time doesn't matter as much as the mindfulness of counting and relaxing the body simultaneously.
3. Play with Body Language
My assistant coach in college would always say "chest up, chin up" when I saw him. I was definitely on the over-analytical anxious side back then (probably still compared to many but I'm much better now) and he was encouraging a confident and relaxed body language. Changing our physiology changes our psychology. Relax the shoulders, loosen up, keep the head up, chest up, and smile. Nod that head in a "yes" while you cultivate those good vibes mon (like man but with a Jamaican accent).
4. Count Your Blessings
It could always be worse, so count everything that is going well. You have two legs? That is reason to celebrate. My ex girlfriend would give thanks every night before bed (silently thank God) for everything from her mother to her finger nails.
5. You Are What You Eat
Eat plenty of protein, fat, and leafy greens. Opt for grass fed meats and wild caught fish versus processed when you can. Take fish oil. Reduce your sugar intake and make sure you are hydrated.
6. Move Around
This is similar to what I said above about stress being energy that needs application. These days people sit around too much. It is no surprise we feel anxious because our ancestors were accustomed to much more overall movement. We sit in the car, then we sit in class or at our jobs, then we sit and watch TV. Get up, stretch, dance, go for a walk, learn to skate board. Get that tension and energy out.
7. Get To Nature and SCREAM
Nothing is better at reducing stress than being in gorgeous nature or reaching an amazing viewpoint. Let that healthy energy fill your cells and let out some screams of celebrations. I can't say I've never screamed out "I'm the man" in the absence of humans but in the abundance of plants and animals.
Stress is only bad when we let it dictate the quality of our life. You have some new tactics to make stress work for you. Viktor Frankl said it best "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."