By Margie Sugarman
When I’m riding, it can sometimes be hard for me to stay positive. My trainer is a person of few words and this often leaves me wondering what she really thinks. When she does give corrections or tries to use constructive criticism, it often leaves me feeling inept. I’m losing my motivation to continue, but I love riding and showing. I want to progress and meet my show goals. How can I get these negative feelings to stop?
Negative thoughts can, and do, affect everything in our lives. Who hasn’t heard something like, “Think the worst and you’ll make it happen”? Clinically, a statement like this actually has a name. It’s known as the “nocebo effect,” meaning negative outcomes are often caused by negative thoughts about events.
Through research, it has been found that people regulate their emotions in one of two ways: via reappraisal or suppression. Suppression, which is pretending not to feel upset and hiding one’s feelings, is the more common trait. Unfortunately, this approach often impacts the development of close friendships, fuels negative emotions, results in lower satisfaction with life, less social support from others and can cause high blood pressure, to name a few negative results.
What’s also interesting is the impact this suppression has on others. This same research showed that being around someone who is suppressing emotions has a definite impact on other people’s stress responses. For example, have you ever been around your coach and just felt some sort of tension or hidden anger in her demeanor? Although there is nothing specific or definite, your body is reacting and physiologically registering your coach’s demeanor. In turn, this sets off an alarm within you, triggering your own set of emotions.
Understanding the effect that suppression can have on oneself and those around you might lead you to think that expressing your emotions might be a more appropriate approach when it comes to the sharing of feelings. However, just blurting out what’s on one’s mind could totally destroy an aspiring athlete’s motivation or the confidence and connection to the trainer that’s needed in a learning situation.
Be it trainer or student, reappraisal is a very strong muscle to employ in stressful situations. Reassessing an emotional situation, or reappraisal, may be the most useful approach in addressing and resolving certain dilemmas. One must stop looking at the situation through the eyes of disappointment and dejection, for these emotions only put the brakes on resolving the problem.
Although reappraisal might seem difficult when you feel overwhelmed, you need to stop for a moment and clear your mind. Do some deep breathing exercises to lower your brain state and anxiety level. These exercises should be practiced routinely. They are tools that get rusty if left too long in the toolbox.
Approach the problem as a challenge. A challenge is looked at very differently than a threat. A threat is cognitively more overwhelming. A “challenge” approach builds the opportunity to overcome the problem because it’s presented in a more positive way with a viable outcome.
Think back. Have you ever experienced the same difficult situation with two different people, but left one interaction feeling positive and the other feeling unsettled and upset? Did you use suppression or meet the challenge of reappraisal?