In the current worldwide crisis we are all experiencing, the only thing we can count on right now is uncertainty. Whether it’s about the stability of your job, the health of those around you, or whether or not your race will be canceled, there’s so much that is unknown – creating the perfect conditions for anxiety to thrive. The best thing about mental skills is that they don’t just apply to training and competition scenarios. These skills, like staying present and focusing on what you can control will not only help you crush your next race but can help you stay calm and collected when you’re facing difficult times.
Understand Your Anxiety
The ability to project and think into the future and consider different possible outcomes is a trait unique to humans. Our ability to imagine scenarios that haven’t happened yet is something that we are biologically hardwired to do. Sometimes, that’s a good thing! Thinking ahead to things that may threaten our needs, safety or happiness allows us the opportunity to plan for it. However, anxiety develops when we can’t shut the mechanism off or when we worry excessively about things that are out of our hands. Anxiety is essentially a faulty stress response. While humans were biologically designed to appropriately respond to an immediate and present threat, we have now developed chronic and ongoing stress by imagining worst-case scenarios and worrying about things we can’t prevent. But, with a bit of strategy and effort, we can take back control.
Does It Feel Good and Is It Productive?
Whether you are worried about the long-term impact of COVID-19 or you’re lying in bed unable to sleep the night before a race restless with nerves, anxiety is something many of us experience. When this happens, there are two questions you need to ask yourself: “Does this feel good?” and “Is this productive?” If the answer to both of those questions is “no,” then nothing good is going to come out of such an unpleasant experience. Your thoughts should be serving you in some way and if they’re not, it’s time to take back the reins.
Be. Present. Two words that make something sound so easy, yet it’s an experience that sometimes feels unattainable. Staying present isn’t just a state of mind, it’s something that should be put into action. Whether it’s in the middle of a race or in day-to-day life, it’s most useful to direct your attention and energy into “now.” Ultimately, we only have direct control over the moment we’re currently in. I’ve found that one of the most powerful and effective ways to do this is to set “intentions” and “commitments.” I like to think of intentions as a way of staying connected with your why, and commitments as a means of staying focused on your what in a tangible way. Your intention sets the tone for the kind of attitude and vibe that you want to carry into your day or your race. Your daily commitments are the actionable steps you can take towards your goal, like setting aside time to train or meditate. This helps you stay in touch with your values and your desired future outcome without taking you out of the present moment. You can commit fully to the present knowing that it’s giving you the best opportunity to reach your destination.
Control What You Can and Let Go of The Rest
Many of us waste valuable mental and emotional resources worrying about things that we have no influence on. “What if my next race has terrible weather conditions? What if I have fueling issues in my next long run?” If you find yourself experiencing worry or anxiety about something, break it down. Acknowledge the aspects that you do have some level of control over, and write them down. Once you’ve identified the areas that are worthy of your attention, troubleshoot them. Create a list of action steps that you can take to maintain influence over the situation, like prioritizing your daily run or eating a nice, big breakfast. If concerns or negative thoughts pop up about things that didn’t make your list of “controllables” push them aside and keep on moving.
The unknown can be daunting. When we don’t know what’s going to happen we often launch into a spiral of future-oriented, anxiety-inducing thought processes. Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, you have control over where you direct your attention. Implement these strategies into your daily life and maintain your awareness in the same place as your two feet.
Addie is a professional ultra trail runner, coach, and sport psychology consultant helping athletes of all ages and abilities to prepare for the mental demands of competing through her practice, Strive Mental Performance.