10 Ways to Manage Stress like an Olympian

Elite athletes withstand epic pressure as they approach the world stage for events as public—and career-establishing or crushing—as the Olympics. Former Olympic swimmer and medalist Markus Rogan, who is now a psychologist at the Paradigm Malibu treatment center in Malibu, Calif., gives us the inside track on how to keep stress in check.

  1. Name the beast. Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Make sure you are clear on what you really mean when you say, “I’m stressed.” Sometimes we generalize 50 things into “stress,” when we really just have to do 50 things, one at a time.
  2. Admit it.  Recognize and accept when you are feeling stressed. Sometimes saying “Right now, I’m stressed” to yourself or someone else helps to both calm you and to activate the energy needed to tackle the challenge ahead. Research has shown that paying attention to your own symptoms actually reduces stress.
  3. Evaluate the endgame. What are you stressing yourself for? Is it part of a larger goal? Is it part of a strategy? Are you getting back the same amount you’re putting in? If not, maybe you are stressed because subconsciously you know you’re on a wild-goose chase.
  4. Check the cost.  Take a careful look at the consequences of stress: Are you exhausted almost all the time? Are you irritable? Losing sleep? Having digestion issues? Studies have shown that stress can rewire our brain pathways. Is it worth the cost?
  5. Enlist quality control. Do you find yourself doing 10 things halfheartedly and just doing them to get them done and move on? If you are not able to be your best self at least once a day, you are paying too high a price for whatever you end up doing (halfheartedly).
  6. Own it. Are you stressed because somebody else did something or because you didn’t prepare properly? This is important if you frequently feel stressed because of time crunches. If you are cramming too many meetings or activities into one day and then wondering why you’re exhausted or find yourself running late, consider who really causes your stress level to rise: You.
  7. Envision a new path. Do you even remember what life without stress is like? Or have you gotten so used to being stressed that having nothing to do feels so foreign that you end up creating things to stress over? A life with managed stress will allow you to live in the present moment and be less judgmental toward yourself and others.
  8. Practice being in the moment. Heard of “smombies”? Smartphone zombies. When was the last time you walked anywhere without looking at your phone? Start a timer (conveniently located on your smartphone) and see how long you can go without looking at it.
  9. Engage in physical affection. Research has shown that pleasurable activities activate the brain’s reward pathways. And don’t check your cell phone in the middle of it.
  10.  Hugs. See what happens to your stress while you’re hugging someone you love. Research has proven that it disappears. More hugs all around. 

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