Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, my husband and I gave our 11-year-old daughter a cell phone for her birthday. Since then, she has barely put that thing down, even using it while she’s at the barn. How can we get her to refocus?
Children of all ages have taken quickly to cell phones and technology. With cell phones, a means of communicating with their friends that’s under their control and fits in their pockets, the connection is strong. Kids and their phones seem to be stuck together with superglue.
If you dare suggest that a tween, teen or 20-something put their phone away, you’re asking for trouble. The younger they are, the more explosive their reaction might be. I’ve seen pre-teens burst into tears when their parents take away their phones in a restaurant.
As much as we hate to admit it, honestly, how many times have you checked your phone even while reading this wonderful edition of Sidelines? Our phones are a stimulus, constantly demanding our attention. Studies have been conducted that show how we think we hear our phones ring, or vibrate, even when they haven’t.
We are constantly surrounded by things that stimulate our brains – phones, television, the radio, etc. – and that can have a negative impact on mental activities such as problem-solving and targeted action. The prefrontal cortex, a structure in the front of our brain, needs to be able to quiet down the rest of the brain for us to focus. When we’re over-stimulated, focusing is difficult, if not impossible.
Regarding your daughter, it’s a slippery slope, and though she’s new to the world of cell phone ownership, she will only continue discovering the power of holding a computer in her hand.
For this reason, it’s imperative that young people, and really, people of all ages, put down their technology and stay present, living in the moment. It doesn’t have to be all of the time, but try putting your phone away while at the barn.
After all, riding is about the connection you have with your horse.
Focusing on those around her, rather than on her phone, will help your daughter refocus on real relationships. If she doesn’t want to put her phone down, ask her to perform activities that require both hands. As she becomes engrossed in the activity, she won’t even notice that her cell phone hasn’t left her pocket for an hour.
Next time, gently suggest that she leave her phone in her bag, so it stays safe and isn’t accidentally broken. Soon, she’ll get back into her pre-cell phone barn routine and will find it more fulfilling.
I’ve noticed that during the last few shows where I’ve competed, upon exiting the ring, I don’t remember my round. I’ve been getting extremely nervous, anxious and fidgety — sometimes feeling physically ill — before classes and have turned to scrolling mindlessly through Instagram and Facebook to try to calm my nerves, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Do you have any advice?
You warm up your horse and start schooling before your class. You feel pretty good, confident and excited. You walk up to the in-gate and are waiting as the person before you enters the ring to do their trip. As you watch, your stomach begins to churn. Your smile quickly vanishes as the blood drains from your face. You feel a bit shaky … and you became totally enveloped by anxiety; your eyes get wider upon entering the ring.
You finish your round and leave the ring. (Did I really do it? I can’t remember much.) Your distended stomach settles down. Other than the self-loathing you feel from your “forgotten” performance, your anxiety seems to have lifted.
People who choke can truly be outstanding performers in some settings and trembling mice in others. Simply put, choking is an expression of anxiety.
There’s a growing body of knowledge that proves overstimulation can be a major factor in anxiety, especially for those who are sensitive to external stimuli. (“I get so nervous when people I know come to watch me ride!”) In such people, there appears to be a traffic jam of worry and self-monitoring.
At some level, it’s normal, even advantageous, to be anxious — but it must be in balance and properly approached.
Through numerous experiments, it has been shown that redirecting the mind, in the moment, to something other than how you’re “behaving” and feeling (anxious) is integral to a positive performance. For example, thinking about the skills and knowing how you’ve worked so hard to acquire and exhibit in practice, and allowing those memories to kick in and carry you through your endeavor. Visualizing the great rides at home with the skills you’ve learned is what you need to be focusing on at this time.
So put down your phone a few hours before you ride. By scrolling through social media, you’re stimulating your brain, rather than calming it, which is your intended outcome. If you like to listen to music, try playing calming music and practicing diaphragmatic breathing to keep your sympathetic nervous system from going into overdrive.
You know how to ride; you have the skills; you’ve practiced over and over again. The cost of putting down your phone is low when you realize the reward of an improved performance.