Coping with Stress

Final preparations

Final preparations (Photo credit: ckhamken)

It is that time of year- as school winds down,  the kids have final exams and the level of stress goes up. The rattled nerves and short tempers, the more frequent headaches or stomach aches, the tossing and turning late into the night all take their toll on the mental and physical well-being of the whole family. No one escapes unscathed. The frustrations of the kids cling to the parents- who do their best to assist the kids but for the most part feel helpless.

My son does have some mental strategies to use. My husband had worked with him as a way to keep him focused on his tennis game. There are definitely parallels between sports psychology and final exams:  prepare ahead of time, take it point by point, don’t worry about the outcome, just do your best.  Even though my daughter does not play a sport, maybe she can implement parts of this stress management plan.

The best thing I think I can do at this time is to keep my own stress levels under control. I try to do my soothing yoga routine every morning, but maybe I need to do it more often. Getting out for some fresh air in the garden or on a walk with the dogs helps me relax, too. Unfortunately, when I suggest these options to my kids, they say they are too busy studying. When they do decide to take a break, they prefer to chill out with a tv show. No matter how clearly they understand that exercise would do more to relieve stress, they roll their eyes at me and try to zone out to the tube.

Rather than shutting off the cable and dragging them out the door, creating even more tension between us, I take a deep breath and walk away. Even though I don’t remember how stressful my exams were (a blessing of time passed), I apparently managed to get through them; so I’m sure my kids will too.

In the meantime, I am going to go smell the lilacs..


Using Sport Psychology for Real Life Situations

Smiley head happy

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My son loves to play tennis. He is trying out for the JV team at his school. He played sixth singles last year and is hoping to move up the ladder. Obviously he is nervous about this challenge. When he worries about his game, he doesn’t play as well- losing focus on each point. By thinking he will lose, he is more likely to make that happen. With the goal of helping him, my husband read “The Best Tennis of Your Life” by sport psychologist and former tennis player Jeff Greenwald. Last night he reviewed some of the suggested mental strategies with our son. As I listened to him, I realized these strategies are not limited to sports but could be applicable to every day life.

One strategy is to use the feeling of gratitude. Greenwald says, ” It’s difficult to be worrying about the future…when you become aware of the bigger picture. ….Being grateful requires you to expand your perspective.”  (excerpt from Play with Gratitude)  I looked at the things I have been stressing over, planning our next vacation or losing a few pounds before I hit the beach, and realized how trivial these are in the big scheme of things. I took a deep breath and instead reflected how lucky I am to be able to afford a fun vacation. I am grateful that I am healthy enough to travel and participate in the exciting water or land sports we will do there-  snorkelling, swimming, tennis and hiking. I already feel calmer and more appreciative.

Obviously there are people with much more troubling worries than mine. People with real health concerns or financial difficulties may find it harder to find gratitude in their lives. In their cases, it is important to focus on the moment and not the woes of yesterday or tomorrow. If they can find something to be grateful for right now, even if it is only happiness that the sun is shining, it may help them to calm their minds and relieve some of their worries.

Another of Greenwald’s suggestions  was to recognize the difference between “productive worry” and “unproductive worry”. The first type involves something you can try to change. If you are worried you will miss a deadline at work, you can put in extra time or shift your priorities to meet it. If you can develop a strategy to combat your worry, you have handled it productively. Finding a way to cope with our problems, even in little baby steps, can give us more happiness and less worry.

The second type of worry is “about things that are outside your control”. Whether this is over travel plans or a long-term illness, there are some things over which we have no control. We can get ourselves to the airport early, but we can not decide when the plane takes off. We can follow our doctor’s protocol and look up information online, but every illness must run its course. Maybe there are some things we can improve, like packing snacks and a book if we get stuck or finding a remedy which relieves our symptoms temporarily, but that is where our control ends. The sooner we recognize our limits, the easier it will be to cast our worries aside.

The third strategy I would like to compare is the use of body language. Greenwald points out the difference on players’ stances, walks and facial expressions when they are winning versus losing. The same holds true in real life situations. When we are confident, we hold our heads up; when we are nervous, we slouch or avert our eyes. He suggests making a note of how you feel when things are going well and try to imitate that behaviour when they are not. By forcing yourself to act happy or calm, you can trick yourself into feeling that way too. Kind of like a body over mind power struggle. I know if I smile and make eye contact with a stranger when I am out walking, I feel a little happier. Even if I was deep in thought, diverting my attention to someone else, helps me to not dwell on my concerns too much.

I am not sure which of these tips my son will put into use on the courts. If he could appreciate that he loves this game and that worrying whether he wins or loses is unproductive, remember to focus on the individual points and not the outcome, and to smile and look at his opponent with confidence, then he will have incorporated the most important strategies which will benefit him throughout his life.

A smiley cup on a yellow ball.. =)

Note: All quotes are taken from “The Best Tennis of Your Life:50 Mental Strategies for Fearless Performance” by Jeff Greewald, Kindle edition ISBN 1558708448, Jan.1,2012.