The Role of Stress In Our Lives

 In Coaches, Professional & Olympic Athletes, Stress

Every day we constantly face small events that elevate our overall stress level. It usually comes about one domino at a time until one misplaced, teetering domino starts a stressful cascade. Your day might look a little like the following:

You leave the house late and are rushing to make it to work on time. While you are driving someone cuts you off and it leads to a near collision. You run into work a couple minutes late and your boss catches you walking in to your meeting a few minutes late. Because you are late, you get assigned another big project at work. You end up having to stay late at work and get caught in horrible rush hour traffic on the way out of the office. This causes you to be late for your dinner plans. Once you finally make it home and get in bed, you cannot sleep because you cannot turn off your mind for all the things you need to accomplish tomorrow. You roll over to look at the clock and it is 2am. You have to be awake in 4 hours. You do not wake up to your alarm because you are so tired. You leave the house late are rushing to make it to work on time…

These small stressful events can cause your body to change its baseline stress levels. Instead of only activating a stress response when you are imminent danger. Your body is constantly on high alert releasing stress hormones all the time. This leads to elevated levels of stress, so that even when you are not stressed, your body is still releasing stress hormones.

It has been scientifically proven that prolonged elevated levels of stress lead to chronic illnesses. Some of the stress related illnesses that you are used to hearing about include heart disease and ulcers. When we feel stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol when released in the right circumstances, help to strengthen our fight or flight response. Cortisol works against the automatic systems in our body in order to prepare our bodies for survival. For example, it weakens the immune system, halts digestion, and increases heart rate. It breaks down fat reserves to create more energy. If we were in a life or death situation, this is the exact response we would want from our bodies. However, with daily stressors, our bodies are constantly feeling stressed. Our cortisol levels are not getting the opportunity to return to a lower baseline level. This is the reason our society continues to see more and more stress-related illnesses, which can cause increased levels of anxiety, memory loss, sickness, and even mental illness.

How can we expect our bodies to perform at an elite level if we are constantly stressed? We cannot. Peak performance requires peak conditioning: adequate sleep, comprehensive nutritional intake, intense focus, and mental and physical training. Save the stress for game time. This is when your instincts will take over and take your performance to an even higher level.

Remember the old saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”? Try to live by that motto. If you find yourself really upset about a stressful event in your life, stop to think: Will I be frustrated by this in 1 hour? Will I be frustrated by this tomorrow? Will I be frustrated by this next week? Will I be frustrated by this next month? If the answer to these questions is “yes” then you have reason to be legitimately concerned. However, if the answer to the last two questions is “no” then do yourself a favor and let go of your emotions around the situation.

Save your energy and your body for a warranted stressful event.

Dr. Michelle Cleere
In her own private practice as an elite performance expert, Dr. Michelle Cleere helps top athletes, musicians, and executives in competitive fields unlock the power of the mind and create the mental toughness to be the best. Dr. Michelle’s extensive academic background, which includes a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in Sports Psychology, allows her to help clients deal with performance anxiety, gain more confidence, and build resilience. In addition to personal coaching, Dr. Michelle takes on many roles – a best-selling author, athlete, and teacher. Dr. Michelle’s bestseller line, Beating the Demons, helps clients develop practical skills to gain more control over competitive environments and mitigate the interruption in play to overcome intense odds and defeat adversity. As a 15-year USAT Coach, she developed simple and effective tools to mentally train her athletes, and they are used by coaches around the world. She is a professor at John F. Kennedy University where she teacher her students to use the mind as an ally to improve performance.
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