Many athletes struggle with relaxation, do you?

There are different ways to relax and get head space, for some people it comes easily, but for others it’s more of a challenge and we need to make a conscious effort to build it into our routine.

Whether you use meditation, self-hypnosis or listening to the rain outside, being able to relax your mind and switch off is an essential skill which will provide you with many benefits, not just in your performance, but also for your mental health and wellbeing.

As a competitor, in full time employment with family commitments, time was always tight. In the past, I used to resist relaxation in place of more training. “Exercise helps me to relax,” I argued. This was true, but it was also an excuse not to have down time, because I neither saw it as worthwhile, or found it enjoyable. Anyone involved in a competitive sport or endeavour understands the added pressure, frustration and fatigue that can come with it, – so don’t kid yourself that you don’t need to find a way to chill out!

Having been in the health and fitness business for over 20 years now, I’ve worked with thousands of stressed, injured and burnt out people. Whether their challenge was mild or more serious, or their aim was to enhance performance, relaxation was always part of the solution. I have realised that relaxation is not just a past time for old people or the lazy! It’s a fundamental skill, which is essential for high achievers. Being able to relax will assist you with your performance, your recovery and your sleep. It will prevent your from burning out.

There is no doubt about it, without down time you will become a grumpy more injury prone athlete. It will lead to plateaus in your performance.

If you are still struggling to get on board with relaxation, I would advise changing your perception to find a reason to get motivated to do it. Here are some quick reasons why:

  • It will assist you to manage your emotions, building your resilience and helping you to learn from your mistakes.
  • It will improve your ability to cope with challenges and people.
  • It will help you to manage your emotions, assisting you to stay calm in high pressure situations.
  • It will maximise your ability to perform and tolerate physical discomfort – so you can keep going stronger for longer.
  • It will keep you present and help you to break habits.
  • It will assist you to manage frustration, useful for learning new skills or managing injury.

Remember, things like mindfulness, meditation and visualisation are skills, which you can develop. Don’t quit if you find it tough, you wouldn’t do that in your sport, would you? Be disciplined, and stick with it. Remember your reasons – why are you motivated to relax? Is it for recovery, to assist you to improve eating patterns?  Maybe it’s to help you to be a more patient partner or parent. Like anything repetition and practice will make it easier.

I’m never going to be someone who lays about on the settee watching TV, or a Yogi who practices hours of meditation (though I do for some time in the week) but I have now learned a range of strategies which I can utilise and apply.  Developing this tool kit has been particularly useful for me when I’ve struggled with injury, dips in mood or challenges with sleep. So remember, you can learn these skills too, in the same way that you have learned your sport and all the other habits, which serve you well in daily life.

Function athlete meditating: Helen Jones