I’m sure your all familiar with the pre competition feelings of anxiety, nervousness and nausea.
Standing there waiting for your turn, hoping your stomach would settle down. Wishing your hands would stop shaking and worrying that your going to forget something in the ring. Having all the worst case scenarios go through your head, and staring at the fence you are most afraid of on course. Your heart is pumping through your chest and your mouth has lost all ability to produce saliva. The world around you gets dark and starts closing in from the edges and you start to feel dizzy and faint until you realise you haven’t breathed for 3 minutes. You take a giant panicked breath to get some oxygen back in to the lungs. You can’t decide if you want to get on with it, or outa there. What is happening to me you ask.
Why do we get nervous and what can we do to reduce the anxiety?
Nerves prior to an event are normal. It is our bodies way of responding to thoughts we are having about an event in the future. Our body is preparing as best as it can do undertake the activity well. Thousands of years ago this was important when we were hunting for food or looking out for leapords. The threats were very real, and getting it wrong could mean life or death. Our bodies are incredibly well designed and can respond to a perceived threat in milliseconds.
What thoughts you have about the event will determine what hormones and chemicals get turned on and where the blood goes.
Nerves aren’t always negative. You get them when you are about to do something exciting. For example, if you are on your way to an awesome concert or about to go out with a bunch of mates you still get nervous. Depending on the perceived experience, all day prior to the event your stomach may be uneasy and you have some excitement buzzing in your chest. The feelings in your body are very similar to pre competition anxiety. I fact if your were to have exactly the same sensations in your body just as your were about to enter the ring, your would say it is nerves, when in fact it is excitement.
When I am in the start box ready to depart for cross country, I feel a range of emotions and sensations come through my body but the most prominent one is excitement. I know that for the next 10 minutes I get to have the time of my life. I know it will be the biggest buzz. Things may go wrong, but for the most part I am expecting it to be so much fun. So, my body is saying let’s go, come on, I can’t wait any longer.
It is important to differentiate when getting ready for an event if perhaps it is excitement rather than nerves playing a role here.
There is a saying in the psychology world:
“Anxiety is excitement without breath”
If you notice that in fact you aren’t really nervous in the sense that you think something fearful could happen, but the bodily sensations of excitement is making it difficult to concentrate then the best thing to do is take 5 minutes and concentrate on your breath. It is simple to do, doesn’t take long and hugely effective.
Find a place when you are comfortable. It can be sitting or standing. You don’t have to be away from a crowd, it can be an hour before or in the warm up immediately before you compete. I tend to do this for 10mins an hour or two prior to the competition and then I do it again for 1 min immediately before I go in the ring.
Ideally, if possible close your eyes and notice your breath. If you can’t close your eyes, simply focus on something close to you and haze your eyes a little so your thoughts aren’t being taken away by something you notice in the external. Breath in through your nose and feel the air filling your lungs. Feel them fill all the way to your belly. Count the in breath to 4, and then breath out for 8.
Do this slowly and keep concentrating on your breath. During this time you can say a mantra if you like. In your mind you may say “This is simple, this is easy, this is fun” or “What I need will come to me when it’s needed” or “Keep your rhythm, the rest will come” You can say anything you want (as long as it’s empowering)
Do this for at least 4 rounds.
No one will notice your doing it. It’s your time to lower your heart rate back down and bring the blood back into the brain so you can concentrate on the job at hand.
If your wondering where the blood went when I say bring it back to the brain, well it was busy in the stomach. Our bodies are designed to flee if we are in danger so if you are anxious and your thoughts are saying to the body “We could be in danger here, this is something we need to worry about”. It will act accordingly and try to expel as much undigested food from the stomach and small intestine as it can. Either by vomiting, or diarrhoea. That is why we often get an upset stomach when we are nervous. The brain has told the “holy shit we are about to die” receptors to engage and prepare for take off. The stomach empties it’s contents and hormones are released into the blood stream travelling straight to the muscles to prepare for immediate take off.
This is where you might notice the shaking. Large volumes of the hormones adrenaline and the energy source adenosine tri phosphate enter the muscles causing them to turn on. If the muscles don’t engage, the energy expended, and the body moved, then the energy is stored and you get sensations of tingling or shaking. It is their way of saying, you told me to prepare for battle. We are ready, where is the battle? Come on, we've got this.
If after some time, if we don’t engage in battle, all the energy that was sent to the muscles get’s used up and we stop shaking. The problem here is that because the muscles didn’t get an opportunity to run and move and use the energy sources to create movement, a large volume of bi products is left over in the muscles as they weren’t flushed through by the lymphatic system and increased blood supply through exercise. This can cause pain and cramping as well as leaving us exhausted.
If your wondering why you might get home absolutely exhausted from an event where you didn’t physically work hard, but were anxious for a lot of day then this in one of the reasons. Your body was preparing all day, but never got to step foot in the game so all the chemicals in your body never got an opportunity to naturally excrete via energy production and heat, therefore got stuck in your body. Your lymphatic system will spend the next 12 hours mopping up and excreting all the bi products and toxins left over. That take’s a lot of energy
If you are a shaker, then the best thing you can do is move your body. Go for a run, or a long walk. A strong brisk walk for 5 or 10 minutes prior to competition is ideal. Take your dog or horse along with you. Walk with momentum and power, get your heart rate up. This isn’t the time to dawdle. You want to hear your breath. If you have a mantra, say it during this walk. Give yourself 2 minutes when you get back from the walk to concentrate on your breath and bring your heart rate back down. You will notice that the shaking has stopped and you are feeling much calmer now.
So, now that you are exhausted reading that little paragraph lets look at how we can avoid this happening in the first place.
First things first, I CAN NOT STRESS ENOUGH at how connected our thoughts and bodies are. As soon as we think anything our brain releases chemicals, and certain receptors in the body are turned on. This is almost instantaneous, and can range from subtle feelings to almost been blown over by both physical and emotional sensations that are so loud and painful ignoring them is almost impossible. At whatever end of the spectrum you are feeling a sensation, it still came from one single thought.
So, it makes sense that in order to take control of our body and the sensations we experience, we first need to take control of our thoughts!
The first step is to notice our thoughts, as far as scientists are aware we are the only species that is able to think about what we are thinking about. You may need to read that again.
Meaning, we can become aware of all the rubbish that our mind throws at us in any given time. Thoughts can range from noticing things in our surroundings, to bringing up prior, possible and painful events. It can run all sorts of possible scenarios though our mind. I’m sure you have all experienced that wonderful argument we have in our minds with our spouse or boss that seems to go over and over and over again without out ever getting resolved. Sometimes it’s an argument that has never happened, or highly unlikely to ever happen but we still seem to replay it again and again causing us to feel angry or frustrated over something we have created in our own head.
Madness…. but we all do it.
If getting your nerves under control and having success while competing is important to you, then you are going to have to do the work. There are no quick fixes here if your serious about developing a mindset that dramatically lifts your game in the arena then your going to have to get a little uncomfortable while learning this.
Do you really want this? What are you willing to do to?
If you want a competition mindset that is focussed, able to adapt and find solutions quickly and effectively then you are going to need to take control and decide what are you going to pay attention to and what are you not.
There in lies the work. You will need to first start to notice on a daily basis how often your mind wanders about all over the place. If you are super determined, write down some of the thoughts that come up on a regular basis. During one of my trainings we had to write down every thought we had over a one hour period. It was insane… I couldn’t write fast enough and the crap that my mind was producing was to be honest, downright embarrassing!
The next part is begin to train your mind to focus on one thing. Your mind is like a muscle. It takes time to build the strength to where you can concentrate and focus on exactly what you want for any given period.
The best place to start is in bed at night either just before you go to bed, or first thing in the morning before you get up. If you are a uneasy sleeper than this is a fantastic exercise to do during the awake times where you can’t get back to sleep. If your brain doesn’t want to sleep then you might as well put it to work for you. You are taking back control remember!
Give your self something to focus on and think about. Some examples are:
* Your perfect day tomorrow. What would it look like if everything went to plan. Imagine your day from the minute you wake up and watch it in intricate detail like a movie.
* Your childhood bedroom. Look around the room and see everything in it’s place like you never left
* Walk through the streets of your favourite city, or somewhere you enjoyed spending time
* Imagine your perfect partner (if you don’t already have one), your perfect car or your perfect house. Imagine it with intricate detail. How it looks, smells and makes you feel.
* Imagine your perfect show jumping round, or your perfect competition. Feel every move, every jump and every obstacle.
The purpose of this exercise is train your brain to stay focussed on a given task you have outlined. When you begin doing this, you will notice that your thoughts drift off ALL THE BLOODY TIME!
Without even realising it you are thinking about horse feed, or something you forgot to do. When that happens, and it will to begin with, just smile and like Brittany Spears says “Oops, I did it again” and go back to what it is you were choosing to focus on.
The more often you do this, the easier it will get and the longer you will be able to stay on one thought.
If you are a troubled sleeper, this will help tremendously as often the reason you are having trouble sleeping is that the thoughts you are having on a continual basis are causing you worry, so like the above example your brain releases epinephrine and cortisol, your heart rate rises and your body is ready to go. Sleep ain’t happening!
When you can take control back of your thoughts and choose ones that calm you, then your brain will release serotonin which helps you body fall back into an easy slumber. This does take practice, and it will take work on your part. But if you can’t sleep, then you’ve got all night to practice right?
It is easy to quit as your brain has become so accustomed to it’s evening shot of adrenaline that it will fight you tooth and nail to have it’s hit. It’s main weapon to gain back control….. is mind games. It will give you thousands of reasons why this whole idea of quietening the mind is crap, why it won’t work for you and why your more broken that anyone else.
I’m sorry to say it, but if your believing that garbage that your brain has your measure
If you can get control of your mind, you will have control of your life
So back to competition nerves. Like any other skill you need to develop to perform your given event, developing the mind is just as important. They say success in competition is 80% mindset and 20% skill.
So if you are wanting to control your nerves, control your thoughts and the nerves and bodily sensations that come with them will change. Start practicing at night when everything is calm and quiet, then progress to doing this during the day if you have a few minutes without distraction.
When you notice thoughts come up during your focus session, just let them pass by and don’t engage in them. Practice this when riding your horse, or training your dog. Stay present with the moment not letting distractions come into your mind. Leave the phone in the car, or at the stables.
I know many people who carry a rock or amulet when competing. When they are practicing these focus sessions they rub or hold onto an object. This is subconsciously linking the calming thoughts and sensations to the object. When you are preparing to go in the ring, have the object handy and rub or hold it like your would when you were practicing your calming focussed thoughts. The action of rubbing the object will cause your brain to release the same hormones that is does when you’ve been practicing.
(For more information on this check out Todd Hermann, The Ego affect)
I have a thing where immediately before I go in the ring, and ideally after the horse before me has gone through the finish flags or left the arena I kiss my horse on the neck three times. It’s only subtle and most people will think I’m just leaning forward but it works for me. I know it’s a girl thing and I can’t see too many fella’s doing that but it is a ritual I have that grounds me. As soon as I have done that, I’m on. It’s game time and look out.
Whether you are feeling nerves to canter or just before you go our to ride 4**** cross country. The same rules apply and it’s all relative. Your nerves and sensations are just as significant and real as an olympians.
Having strategies to manage what comes up, let’s you know you can handle it. It empowers you and allows your brain to ignore all the rubbish and bring to your awareness, manage and solve quickly and effectively what it needs to perform at your very best.
Your nerves are only your body responding to your thoughts. They are chemical and hormonal responses to what you are allowing filter into your mind.
Get control of your mind and gain control of your body, your success and your life
If you would like to discuss some of the thoughts that are coming up for you on repeat or you would like some strategies that are designed specifically for you and your situation then get in touch. Seeing you thrive and gain the success that you deserve is what I’m all about. Don’t hesitate, send me an email or give me a call. Let’s get you started on your best year yet