I think we can agree that stress and anxiety are things that impact us all. What makes the difference in how that stress manifests in our lives is how we deal with it. I’ve learned a few techniques to manage anxiety before and during competition that I’ve been able to successfully apply in my life outside of shooting. I use these techniques during tests, before speeches, and through many other circumstances that give me anxiety.
One of the quickest ways to relieve stress and anxiety is through breathing. Generally, people will simply tell you to take a deep breath, but you can take it a step further to really optimize the benefits. The way that I was taught was to take a deep breath in for a count of five, hold the breath for a count of five, and release the breath for a count of five. Repeat this over and over. I’ve been attached to sensors monitoring my physical reaction to various stimuli, and while implementing the breathing technique, my control over the stressors was significantly increased, and my negative reactions were significantly decreased. I was able to control my heartrate with precision just by using my breath. I use this one all the time, it is great for mindful meditation!
Sometimes when you are experiencing stress, you don’t even realize the physical tension building. Take a seat or lay down and close your eyes. Start by clenching your toes. Hold that for a few seconds, then relax your toes, feeling the tension release. Move up to your calves, giving a good flex. Relax the calves and let the tension go. Keep moving up your body, going through these motions through ever muscle group. Hamstrings, thighs, bum, abs, back, shoulders, biceps, forearms, fists, neck…all the way into your face muscles. Raise your eyebrows and release, clench your jaw and release, scrunch your eyes and release… By the time you work through your entire body, you should feel an immense sense of physical relaxation.
Use a Mantra
A mental technique that will help relieve physical stress and anxiety is to use a mantra. A mantra is defined as a statement or slogan that is repeated frequently. In Buddhism, it is a word or sound that is repeated to aid concentration in meditation. I used a mantra in training and competition that improved my concentration and guided my focus to achieve a positive outcome. Your statement can lead with “I am”, “I have” or “I will” followed by something positive. It can also just be one simple word that increases your focus. I used an “I will” statement as well as a statement of simple words. Examples of phrases you could use: I am a champion, I have ultimate control, or I will align the sights perfectly (something relative to your own sport or activity). Examples of one-word mantras: center, relax, or forward. Your mantra should be repeated slowly, with focus, and continuously. One mantra that I used in competition was, “relax, relax, perfect.” Now that I am not competing anymore, I still find myself using the mantra when I am in stressful situations. Just like what has happened with me, if you implement this technique over and over again with intention, it will become automatic.