Stress is something many of us talk about but is difficult to define; but one thing's for sure - sport can be a very stressful environment. The pressure especially builds up in the playing season when there is a lot riding on results of games and everyone wants to win so much.
Fortunately in rugby a good way of relieving stress is actually going out and playing and having the ability to play the best game you can at that time, which gives you the satisfaction of knowing you are giving it everything. The least stressful part of the season is the off season period, because you are under no pressure to win games. So, as rugby players, myself and my team mates have a real need to make the most of this time to get away from the sport, take time to relax - and go on holiday!
There are a lot of times when my team mates and I admit to being stressed. One thing I would say is that every person deals with stress in different ways. Some will get away from the rugby environment altogether, to go and do something completely different that they find enjoyable. Others will try to do as much practice in training as they can to mentally give themselves the satisfaction that they are ready for whatever is about to come their way! Others just simply laugh it off and are very laid back about it. People react in different ways and some people get stressed about things which others don't!
Spotting your stress signals
National Stress Awareness Day is on 7th November - so what better time is there to sit back and take stock of your pressure levels? If you want to reduce the stress in your life, perhaps try to think about what your triggers are and how you might keep them in check. For example, some people feel tensed or stressed by the slightest deviation from their set daily routine and many people fall somewhere in between, but may have periods when levels of stress increase. Telltale signs of stress building up include:
- Not being able to sleep properly with worries going through your mind
- Being impatient or irritable at minor problems
- Not being able to concentrate due to many things going through your mind
- Being unable to make decisions
- Drinking or smoking more
- Not enjoying food so much
- Being unable to relax, and always feeling that something needs to be done
- Feeling tense - sometimes this includes a 'knot' in the stomach, or feeling sweaty with a dry mouth or a thumping heart.
Tips to keep stress in check - on and off the pitch
- Visualisation is a good way to stay positive about your actions on and off the pitch. To visualise yourself doing good things on the pitch and to also look back on previous events you have experienced in games, fills you with reassurance and, in turn, prevents you from becoming stressed. This is especially helpful in the run-up to a game where there is a lot of time to think about what's ahead of you. So visualising yourself doing good, positive things helps fill you with confidence and prevents stress affecting you as much.
- Positive self-talk is another good way to prevent stress. It's a habit that before a game is massively helpful, because it puts you in a good state of mind. Thinking things like 'I am going to go out and play the best I have ever played' is always a good mindset to have to boost your confidence. Also positive self-talk while on the pitch is also crucial because there are times in a game where things may not be going the way you want them to be and having the ability to positively talk yourself out of these negative situations is an excellent skill.
- Stressful situations especially in a game of sport often make people become really tense and uptight. You can often see this in people's body language whilst playing. Deep breathing is a method which helps relieve that feeling. Stressful situations often lead to rash decisions and, ultimately in sport, game-changing ones. Deep breathing helps calm you down and clear your head so that, even in the most stressful situation, you are giving yourself the best chance to make the best decision. In rugby a lot of goal kickers use this method when lining up a kick at goal.
- Another way to relieve stress is to take yourself out of the pressured environment altogether by getting out and having a hobby which you just find enjoyable! For me, that usually means going to the cinema with some of my mates or playing a game of golf. These sorts of activities take your mind away from the stressful parts of your life completely and allow you to escape and wind down. In professional sport this is very important, because there are lots of ups and downs which can become very emotional. So it's important to get away from your game sometimes to do something you simply enjoy for its own sake.