The U.S. recently held its Olympic trials for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics on July 23, which had been postponed last year due to the pandemic. The many athletes set to represent their countries are excited and in preparation way before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Olympics are traditionally held every four years, the last being in 2016. Because of the delay, many of them have trained longer than usual.
If you’re a young athlete with dreams of competing in the Olympics one day, it’s important to know as early as now that the journey will be rocky. No Olympic athlete achieved success without blood, sweat, and tears. While this reminder isn’t meant to discourage you, it can act as a reality check so that you’d know what to expect when your career begins.
Whether you’re a part of your school’s varsity team or a budding elite athlete, stress will affect your sport at one point. If left untreated, your stress can develop into anxiety, which athletes commonly experience. Michael Phelps, a retired record-breaking competitive swimmer, has spoken at great length about his battle with anxiety and depression. Thanks to therapy, Phelps is healing. But prior to getting help, his struggles led him to a pair of DUI arrests.
High stress levels are often the trigger of mental health disorders. And athletes are prone to it because of the pressure to win medals. To avoid spiraling into anxiety and depression, here are some effective relaxation techniques for young athletes:
- Massage Therapy
Massage therapy comes in different types. For athletes, a massage is a good option since it focuses on treating a repetitive injury or treating muscles prone to injury. A massage also increases flexibility and performance and relieves pain, anxiety, and muscle tension.
A hot stone massage is a good option as well if you want to de-stress. This type of massage uses hot stones instead of or in addition to the therapist’s hands. The heated stones will be placed in different areas around your whole body. It can ease muscle tension, improve blood circulation, soothe pain, induce relaxation, and relieve stress.
Getting a massage is more beneficial for mental health than people give it credit for. Hence, a visit to the spa is more than just an act of indulgence or vanity. A massage should be part of their routine care for an athlete who often deals with pain, injury, and stress.
- Breathing Exercises
There’s actually a certain way of breathing recommended for stressed athletes. It’s called diaphragmatic breathing, in which you breathe into your abdomen then to your chest. To start, expand your chest and raise your shoulders as you inhale. That particular movement pushes the diaphragm down. Hold your breath for few seconds, then breathe out while contracting the muscles at the back of your throat so that your exhalation will be audible.
Create a rhythm with this breathing exercise by inhaling, holding, then exhaling. This will release the tension from your muscles during key movements, such as hitting a baseball or landing a tumble.
- Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness can also benefit athletes, especially those who are pressured to win. In mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises are important, but instead of using them to aid movement, you’ll use them to let go of your negative thoughts and let in positive thoughts. For example, if you and your coach have been training hard for at least a bronze medal, take time to pause, close your eyes, and relax. Focus on the present instead of the future you’re dreaming of. In other words, concentrate on the journey, not the destination. That medal will come, but you have to achieve your best first. With mindfulness meditation, you can train while focusing on your training, not on the upcoming competition.
- Prepare for Certain Scenarios
While it’s important for athletes to appreciate their present, they also need to know what to expect from competitions or how to deal with certain scenarios that may not favor them. Preparation will take away the stress of facing the unknown.
Michael Phelps found this technique helpful in calming his nerves during competitions. He planned on what he’d do if his goggles broke, for example. By also picturing yourself in awkward or distressing situations, you’d be less shocked if it ends up happening, and you won’t regret anything in the end because you’re well-prepared.
Using these techniques to de-stress can boost your performance, confidence, and ability to cope with pressure. The stress may not go away completely because a bit of stress also fuels us to give our best, but remember to keep it under control. You’re not supposed to feel anxious, depressed, and think that you’re not enough. When the stress starts to hurt your well-being, consider professional help.