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Psychological Warfare... Controlling your Stress Responses...

Psychological Warfare... Controlling your Stress Responses...As an opener it is again worth stating that general rules and strategies are fairly limited in this field. Ultimately it is only through understanding ourselves, what our triggers and anxieties are and our individual responses to these, that we can accommodate, assimilate and adopt a set of coping strategies. The issue of controlling stress responses is therefore individualistic in its nature and fundamental principle.

However, viewing the field generally there are some strategies which appear to be common to all theories concerning stress management. Whilst contextually we are speaking about stress responses to a specific event (bout/match/fight), it is possible to identify merit and opportunity within these common strategies, which can further be brought to bear of the determination of a set of individualised coping mechanisms for stress/anxiety management and reduction pre, in and post fight.

Strategy 1. "If you can't avoid the stressful event, alter it. If you can't alter it, alter yourself." This one is a little challenging for our context. We are set on a course that we cannot change, we have an unavoidable date with destiny in the future and this won't be denied. In this case then look at how you can adapt the situation to become more of a positive. Are you familiar with the venue? Are you familiar with your opponent? Can you research to find out how they fight and what you may be facing on the day in question? Fundamentally the parameters of the event are fixed. The activity is the activity. The rules are the rules. You can't change these. Therefore the strategy must be around what can you do to ensure that you are best positioned to underpin a favourable outcome for yourself. Researching your opponent is one thing, you then need a game plan to respond to this. You need strategies, physical and mental, predetermined and repeatedly rehearsed. This will enable you to ensure every base is covered. Physical conditioning, technical capabilities and cognitive strategies to manage and manipulate his in-fight anxieties all need to be on point. The bottom line is that you can never guarantee a win, you can only guarantee that you have done everything you can to produce that result.

Strategy 2. "Take a break from the stressor." Pre-fight burnout due to over training and uncontrolled anxiety is common. Whilst you might refer to yourself as a 'fighter', it's important to recognise that this is only one aspect of your life. You are a compilation mixture of many things and ensuring that there is a diversity to your interests and life will enable you to find solace and reduce stress more readily. Whether it is family, friends, physical activities, artistic endeavours, music or simply reading, there are many ways in which we can effectively escape and switch off from the stressors facing us. This isn't to avoid them completely (the bills have to be paid eventually) but escaping into a pursuit which can engage your mind elsewhere for 30-60 minutes is a great way of reducing the feelings of stress and anxiety.

Strategy 3. Breathing and quietening your mind offers great benefits. Understanding some of the breathing techniques associated with activities such as yoga, chi gung and tai chi can absolutely assist in managing stress responses and anxieties. Focusing inward, maybe repeating a positive mantra or statement, maintaining deep and controlled diaphragmatic breathing has been proven to decrease the level of stress hormones within the body. Literally, to reduce your anxiety all you may need to do is stop and breath of a few moments.

Strategy 4. Write down your concerns. For many the anxiety and stress in magnified by a relative inability to communicate what it is that's bothering them. However, when questioned people find cathartic release in specifically voicing this concern. Giving yourself an opportunity to specifically identify what it is that worries you is hugely beneficial. What specifically are you concerned about in respect of the event? Is it the people watching you and the fear of public humiliation? Is it the potential of getting hurt? Is it the the fear of failing? What is the specific concern? Having identified this, writing it down can itself be a release. Equally, it then assists you in determination of the coping strategy to minimise and alleviate this stressor.

Strategy 5. Affirmations affect our health and performance. How you speak to yourself (the language you use in your internal voice) has a direct impact on your feelings of security and worth. Negative self talk is doomed to provide you a doubt ridden, self fulfilling prophecy. You will get the result you most focus on, therefore if your internal voice us set to the tune of negativity and failure then you'll unwittingly create the circumstances in which this becomes your reality. The opposite is also true. Positive self talk, mentally imaging your success and framing your experience in a positive manner, will position you to recreate and repeat this behaviour. Success breeds more success. Forming a positive internal mantra to contradict any negative thoughts and internal self talk is a useful tool to have at your disposal.

Strategy 6. Sleep and diet affect your anxieties. It goes without saying that a holistic plan, preparing you for an event should consider diet and sleep, as much as it considers physical training. Recovery is as essential for your psychological wellbeing as it is for you physical wellbeing. Pushing yourself continually will ultimately result in the breakdown of your body and mind. Be conscious of how you schedule rest into your plan. For many combat athletes weight management is also fundamental. If you fight at a weight considerably below your normal 'walking-around' weight then your weight cut may well be damaging to your body and mind immediately before the fight. Starvation, dehydration and sweating out your soul are never good strategies. The real plan should be to maintain a healthy weight, close to if not at your fight weight.

Strategy 7. Anchors work. Stress responses are emotional. Fundamentally, any emotional response (positive or negative) has a trigger. It can be a thought, a sensation, a memory or a physical event which ultimately creates a snowball effect of emotions and hormonal responses through the body. Music is probably the easiest and most readily identifiable stimulus here. Many people are emotionally stimulated by pieces of music, again either negatively or positively inspired. Understanding what inspires you and anchoring these with pictures, pieces of music or potentially writing is a great strategy to use for recall. In the face of negative, doubt loaded thought processes you then become able to recreate a positive mental state through use and identification of these anchors. Many fighters will choose their entrance music based on this type of response, choosing music which positively stimulates and inspires their performance levels.

Again it must be considered that there are no panaceas here. There is no one size fits all approach. The stress responses we feel are individual and created by our own individual concerns. We therefore must seek to understand ourselves in the first instance, maintaining a create approach to the implementation of coping mechanisms and strategies to reduce and alleviate these responses.

Investigate, research and individualise your approach. Keep that which works and discard that which does not. It's what we do!!!! 

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