Updated: May 24, 2020
As we are currently confined to our homes, our routine and day to day life looks very different. Because of this it is totally normal be feeling stressed and overwhelmed. This is likely because we are unable to train and compete in the sports we love which can be very frustrating.
Willmott Swim Skills has teamed up with Sports and Wellbeing consultant, former GB swimmer, and MSC Psychology graduate Laura Dawson from LD Psychology to bring you 3 simple techniques to try and help reduce stress.
Becoming more mindful is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. The idea of being mindful is often heavily associated with meditating all of the time, but this is not the case.
Mindfulness refers to being able to remain in your present moment, not thinking ahead or in the past - but the here and now. When we think about the triggers that cause our stress, they are often situated in the past or the future - very rarely are they about the now. For example, as athletes we can dwell on past performances or worry about our future skills upon our return to the pool. By being in our present moment, we do not give ourselves the chance to worry about something that happened yesterday, or despair over the anticipation of tomorrow. Meditation is a great way to improve your mindfulness.
HOW TO: To meditate, you must find a quiet place, a comfortable position either laying down or sitting up in a posture that allows your breaths to flow through your body freely (no slouching); In addition to this and you must control your breathing. There is no need to change your breathing rate although you can slow it down if you think it will help you relax. You want to concentrate specifically on your breath and the feeling of it entering and exiting your body. To begin focus on where you feel your breath the most, from the tip of your nose, your abdomen, or whatever is best for you. As you move through meditation, you should allow your thoughts to flow in, through and out of your minds, with no judgement. This being said, if your thoughts begin to ‘run away with you’ draw your attention back to your breath. With each breath, we are given an opportunity to start the meditation process again.
Fun Fact: Practicing meditation frequently and improving your mindfulness has been shown to reduce excess salivary cortisol levels in the body, something that is associated with increased sporting performance. For guided meditation practice, check out a range of free resources on youtube or Spotify
The Progressive Muscle Relaxation Method
This process is great to help promote stress leaving the body.
HOW TO: This technique requires tensing each muscle group separately, whilst controlling your breathing. As you draw in your breath begin to clench your hands into fists, hold your breath and maintain tension for 5 seconds before releasing your grip and exhaling simultaneously.
Repeat this process of 'tension to relaxation' with other muscle groups: lower arms, upper arms, upper legs, lower legs, feet, torso, back, and face. During this time, you want to really concentrate on the feeling of tension leaving the muscles and in turn leaving the body.
I would recommend this when you have at least 30 minutes of free time. This technique is often used by athletes and non-athletes alike as a tool to relax aiding sleep at night, but is also very useful in high stress situations to unwind.
Workouts are a great way to reduce stress for two different reasons.
1. As an athletes your body is used to expending energy in huge volumes as you may be used to swimming for 3-4 hours a day. As you are temporarily unable to participate in such large amounts of exercise, you may find that you have too much energy and are struggling to sleep at night. A lack of sleep can lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Many people, including athletes report an inability to relax at night and therefore struggle to fall asleep due to worry. By completing home workouts, you are expending excess energy and should be able to get to sleep easier at night.
(You can join in with a live Willmott Swim Skills workout every Wednesday on Instagram at 10am during lockdown)
2. Countless studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins. As opiate receptors in the brain are activated and endorphins are released. These hormones are significantly related to the reduction of feelings such as pain and discomfort and aid overall feelings of positivity and better wellbeing. As a result perceived stress levels are lower and you should feel a little less bogged down.
"Although in the past I have found these techniques helpful, every individual is different. Don’t despair if one of these practices doesn’t work for you first time - just give it another go."