Guest blog by Coach Alicia!
It is common for athletes to experience anxiety when they are participating in a sport. Your amygdala is the part of the brain that processes emotions and can cause anxiety and stress symptoms. The amygdala is also known as the “fight or flight” center of the brain as it will sometimes send signals to the rest of your brain that something dangerous might happen and pump stress hormones into the body. This is a really important part of our brain, but sometimes the amygdala gets it wrong and sends out alert signals to your body when they aren’t needed. Think about walking down the street and you see a stick lying ahead of you. You might not be able to tell right away if it is a snake or a stick. Your amygdala might interpret this as dangerous and cause your heart rate to increase and adrenaline to go through your body before the rest of your brain catches up and realizes that it is just a stick. Something similar can happen before a race or during a challenging practice. When your heart rate increases and breathing becomes more shallow, your amygdala might kick in and send messages to your brain and body that are not accurate.
When we start to feel anxious, nervous or stressed while running, we want to be able to calm our amygdala and the rest of our body down as quickly as possible. One of the most effective ways to do this is with breathing exercises.
Three simple breathing exercises to practice are listed below. It is important to practice these on a frequent basis and not only in the moment when we are trying to calm down. The more your brain and body get used to these breathing exercises, the easier it will be to use them before a race or anytime you are feeling anxious.
Three Breathing Exercises
1. Titled Head Breath: inhale for a slow count of four and tilt head left (ear to shoulder) and exhale for a slow count of four as you center your head; inhale for a slow count of four and tilt your head right (ear over shoulder) and exhale for a slow count of four as you center your head again. Repeat this for 1-2 minutes.
2. Box Breathing: Inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts. Repeat this for 1-2 minutes.
3. Relaxation Breathing: Place your right hand on your heart and left hand on your abdomen with thumb on diaphragm (center of chest bone in the middle of the ribs). Let your belly rise and count 1-2-3-4 on the inhale. On the exhale, your belly falls and count down 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Repeat for 1-2 minutes.
Again, practice one or all of these techniques on your own before race day. Then, if you start to feel that amygdala fire up and your anxiety start to rise, you can use one of these exercises to bring yourself back to a healthy feeling of nervous excitement - that is a natural way to feel before any competition and, if accepted, can actually help improve your performance!
If you have any questions, let any of the coaches know. We are happy to talk through this with you one-on-one. Now let's get out there and fly!
Delta Hawks Coaches