By Margie Sugarman
I haven’t been to Indoors since I was a Junior. I worked hard this year, have the right horse and proper training, and qualified for two finals. My horse is amazing, and I know she will be great, but I’m nervous. I feel such pressure to succeed against my peers who have been here many times over the years. How do I calm myself when anxiety overpowers me, so I can be successful and not let my head get in the way?
We all hate to fail, but the competitive piece in sports helps to create an added desire for victory. The problem is that the anxiety associated with failure fuels us to focus on the negatives without acknowledging any positives.
Ever have the feeling that negative thoughts are racing around in your head and colliding with one another like bumper cars? Ever feel your heart rate increase to the point where you feel as though your heart is going to break through your chest? Ever feel as though no matter how deeply you breathe, you aren’t getting any air?
Confucius said it quite well: “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” Let’s look at how we can get rid of some of those stones and smooth the path to your success in the ring. The following are some options—choose what works for you!
COMBATING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Sit, think and write down accomplishments you’ve achieved on your way to qualifying for these finals. Think back to where you were last year at this time and how far you’ve come. Think about the lessons you’ve learned and the progress you’ve made. Make sure you highlight what you’ve learned from your mistakes. Your progress has put you in this enviable position.
“Don’t believe every worried thought you have. Worried thoughts are notoriously inaccurate.” —Renee Janie
Mindfulness teaches us to stay in the here and now. Mindfulness exercises help you stay focused on your senses, which are how we interact with the environment. Some people listen to very upbeat music that gets the psyche psyched and the energy level up. Others prefer sensory exercises that focus the mind on concrete associations with the senses. These exercises ground the mind and calm the body, allowing your autonomic nervous system to relax.
“You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” — Wayne Dyer
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION AND IMAGERY
Among many benefits of progressive muscle relaxation are reducing anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure and salivary cortisol levels. Imagery helps to ground the senses and induce a peaceful state of mind.
“Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges.” — Bryant McGill
Deep breathing, belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing calm the physiological systems in the body. Furthermore, it reduces the heart rate and blood pressure, increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers the brain state.
“Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence…” — Dalai Lama
LAUGHING AND HUMOR
Laughing is a simple route to reducing stress. Studies have shown that “mirthful” laughter reduces cortisol and epinephrine levels in the body, reducing stress’s adverse hormonal effects. Moreover, laughter helps to improve the immune system.
“Laugh my friend, for laughter ignites a fire within the pit of your belly and awakens your being.” — Stella McCartney
Interesting studies by Riley and Park (2015) found that yoga exerts positive effects through biological and psychological pathways. Furthermore, it enhances positive emotions while decreasing the stress response and lessens the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” — Anne Lamott
Exercise helps us to respond better to stress. Why? Exercise acts as a type of dress rehearsal for the body’s mechanisms that come into play when dealing with stress. When our activity level is too low, our body doesn’t get enough practice dealing with anxiety and stress. Walk around the horse show rather than sitting on your tack trunk!
“I know of one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
JAPANESE STRESS RELIEF
The hands are believed to be one of the pathways to relieving tensions.
The Jin Shin Jyutsu method explains how to rebalance energies:
-Grab your finger (or thumb) with the opposite hand as if holding a handle.
-Hold each finger (or thumb) for one to two minutes. You might feel a pulsing sensation.
-For the palm, use the thumb of your opposite hand to put pressure on the mid palm for about one minute.
“A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of your circumstances having power over you.”— Joyce Meyer
By using such techniques regularly, nipping stress in the bud will build positive stress-busting habits. In turn, your physical and mental well-being is enhanced, while anxiety will remain at an optimal level.
“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have.” — Norman Vincent Peale