To mark April’s Stress Awareness Month, we asked Neil Shah – a leading global expert on stress management and wellbeing; Founder and Director of the Stress Management Society; and best-selling author – to share his expertise with athletes, as they look ahead to a busy few months of international competition.
What is Stress?
“Stress is something that we’ve all felt at some point in our lives. Despite people’s negative perceptions, stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The stress response is designed to equip us to react quickly and appropriately to react to life-threatening situations. This response has proved essential to our survival and the success of our species. The ‘fight or flight’ response was given to us by nature as a survival mechanism to allow us to fight hard or run fast when facing a mortal threat.
“Unfortunately, in modern times, our stress response is triggered in scenarios where there is nothing to fight and nothing to run away from. For example, feeling stressed about a traffic jam isn’t going to change the timing of your arrival, and the stress response may equip you to kick the car door out and run away, however that is unlikely to provide a positive solution to your traffic jam stress. It’s in these situations that having effective stress management techniques to draw on is vital, and the key to preventing the long-term consequences of being in a state that was only ever designed to be a short term response. Long-term stress is detrimental to both physical health and mental wellbeing.”
Identifying the Symptoms
“The first stage of managing stress is identifying the early signs and symptoms. We may all relate to different aspects of stress – from brain fog and indecisiveness, anger and emotion, to blurred vision and headaches. Understanding your physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms will help you identify stress early enough to take appropriate preventative action to avoid more serious consequences.
“A large part of managing our stress is evaluating the validity of the threat or challenge that has triggered the stress response, and being able to determine whether the ‘fight or flight‘ state offers any benefit. For example, when starting a race, the increase in adrenaline might allow for a quick start off the line and improved performance. However, in the days before the race, you might find yourself experiencing stress which prevents you from training as rigorously as you’d like to, and could also impact the depth and quality of your sleep which is vital for rest and recuperation.”
Building Your Toolbox
“Explore different methods to increase your resilience and use this knowledge to build an effective toolbox of techniques to help you recognise and manage stress.
“Give these techniques a go:
‘4 – 7 – 8’ Breathing Exercise
“Find out more about us and our stress-busting tools here.”