Have you ever felt your heart racing right before the game started? Felt butterflies in your stomach getting set for a face off? Started sweating before a presentation?
Here is a quick biology lesson.
We are wired to respond to stress with a fight or flight response. That means:
Let’s use a big race as an example. Your brain doesn’t understand that sport is a game. As you prepare for the race and start to feel pretty amped up, your brain responds to the situation. It basically does this:
Uh oh! Danger!
Fight, or flight?!
In short, your brain shuts down all thoughts except that primal instinct to decide to act or flee the scene.
When you feel this activation in your body, it’s normal to think, “I’m so nervous! What if I don’t do well?” or “I’m feeling so much anxiety that it must mean I’m not ready for this.” But, these are simply thoughts you have in response to how your body feels. These thoughts are one way to interpret the activation in your body. You have other options for how to interpret these feelings.
When you feel your heart rate and breathing rate increase, and you start to feel tension in your body, make the choice to interpret that as your body getting ready to go. For example, your heart is beating faster to pump more blood, to deliver more oxygen, to fuel your muscles. So, your increased heart rate just means more energy for your muscles to make you go.
You want to interpret activation as facilitative to performance (read: my body is getting ready to go!).
How do you do this? Use these tips!
Understand that activation in your body before performance is normal (without it, you’d move like a slug)
Take a centering breath and think about the physiological response you need for the task at hand
If you need to amp things up, try using motivational self-talk or intentionally increasing your breathing rate a bit to get your body to respond
If you need to relax yourself, try doing a body scan to release tension in your body, and focus on taking centering breaths in and out in a slow, rhythmic pattern
What’s a body scan, you ask? Scan all the major muscle groups in your body, starting at your head and scanning down to your toes. If you feel tension (for example, in your shoulders), tense the muscle even more, hold it for 2-3 seconds, and release the tension with a deep exhale
Remember, the biggest lesson here is to understand that activation is normal and you have control over interpreting those feelings as fuel for performance, rather than as worrisome anxiety.
The next time you get ready to compete, take control. Let your brain tell your body it’s time to fight.