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Advice from an NYC Sports Psychologist

How To Deal With Your Competitive Anxiety: Everyday Advice from an NYC Sports Psychologist

 

“The ball’s in your court, now.”

“She really hit it out of the park!”

“He’s down for the count today.”

“Help us score one for the team.”

“Don’t drop the ball on this one.”

“We’re down to the wire!”

 

Sports metaphors are everywhere. In business, in the classroom, in the movies, in finance, in our day-to-day life. Lots of us don’t play a sport anymore, or never even did, but the competitive anxieties still remain in our modern life, well beyond the field or court. We judge and compare ourselves to others, whether it’s through a co-worker’s career advancement or a traveling friend’s Instagram account.

Competitive anxiety is real. It’s so hard in today’s fast-paced world not to feel like we aren’t performing at a high enough rate, or like we aren’t falling behind the group. We want to keep up, and sometimes it feels like we’re drowning. Everywhere we look, we are asked to be “better versions of ourselves,” which can be a good thing, but it can also cause a whole lot of stress.

One of our providers, Dr. Itzik, a Mental Performance Consultant, frequently deals with competitive anxiety with his clients. Itzik teaches athletes and high-performing individuals of all ages and backgrounds strategies to break down barriers and achieve great performance. He is a Sports, Health and Exercise Science professional who specializes in the mental and physiological elements associated with peak performance. He “believes that educating people on how to be mindful of their emotions and how to manage and channel them during a peak performance environment is a key factor in performance enhancement.” Sounds like this could be helpful in our day-to-day experiences, too, right?

What Is A Sports Psychologist?

But first, what do sports psychologists do? Well, that’s a pretty general question with a pretty all-over-the-place answer. They may be a trainer, a consultant, or a therapist/counselor/psychologist. They might work with career transitions. Or with eating disorders. They can help with team building, team dynamics, and group leadership. They can work with rehabilitation after an injury, or the psychological impact of an injury. They might work in research or as a service provider.

All this to say… they don’t just work with professional athletes.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “The same strategies that sport psychologists teach athletes — relaxation techniques, mental rehearsals and cognitive restructuring, for example — are also useful in the workplace and other settings.”

Athletes also use a psychologist to help them with concentration, goal-setting, controlling their temper, communication with teammates, keeping up an exercise program, motivation, and working with a team.

They’re awesome, is what we’re trying to say. They’re really awesome. For you, for me, for Lebron… we can be lumped into the same sentence as him, right?

It’s a relatively new field. The man regarded as the “Father of Sports Psychology,” Coleman Griffith, only starting research in the field around 1925. He first was an educational psychology professor at the University of Illinois, where he broke barriers by conducting research on athletic competition and how it related to psychology. Eventually, he was hired as the sports psychologist for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs went to the World Series the following year, but Griffith was still distrusted by many, and often not listened to by various employees of the team and in the professional sports world. They fired him the year after. If only he could see where sports psychology is today!

In under 100 years, Sports Psychology has gone from being poo-pooed by professionals to being utilized in top competitive environments, such as the Olympics. Why the drastic change? Well, psychology in general has gained much respect in the past century. More people view therapy as an important part of life now than ever before, and it’s finally being recognized in the performance sector, as well. A wider swath of people are beginning to realize that our heads and brains are just as much a part of our bodies as the rest of us… who woulda thunk?!

It’s still hard to categorize performance related to the brain, though. Athletes can see visible physical results from training with a fitness coach. They can feel when their injuries are healing after many sessions with a physical therapist. But what they can’t see or feel directly, and what they cannot see on a gameday chart, is mental work. They can’t literally see any progress from countless therapy sessions. This makes the importance of sports psychology more difficult for some to grasp, because we can’t view immediate tangible results.

Alas. People rejecting therapy. Brushing aside anything having to do with **gasp** THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. Well, we know it’s helpful, so that’s a start, I suppose!

Anyway, onto the fun stuff from the pro!

Itzik’s Work

Dr. Itzik

Mental Performance Consultant

Member of the American Psychological Association

LWWellness Provider

As a former fighter in the Special Forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Itzik was drawn to learn more about the individual and team dynamics that affect performance. He has extensive hands-on experience working with top-notch athletes, military personnel, and business clientele from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and ages. He has also worked with athletes from the U.S. Olympic team, U.S. Karate team, and the Israeli National Judo team.

Below is some advice from Itzik to help you with team dynamics and competitive anxiety. Enjoy!

We all know that technical and physical skills are important in sports, but there is also a mental aspect that is just as crucial. Technical and physical skills are the foundation of performance, but mental ability is what shifts, shakes, or empowers that foundation.

As sports psychology professionals, we utilize a set of tools to improve an athlete’s performance: mental skills training, assessments, regular sessions, biofeedback, emotion regulation, among others.

Some common cases we see are clients who experience challenges with either Competitive Anxiety or Team Dynamics. Below, we’ll give a brief overview of what these challenges may look like and how they can be addressed.

Competitive Anxiety

Let’s talk about something that many people have experienced: Competitive Anxiety.

One thing I often experience is clients who come in and perform really well in practice but fail to deliver during competition. It can be due to fear of being criticized or their inability to manage emotions. There can be many factors that affect an individual’s ability to perform well under pressure.

So, in this situation, we perform an assessment where we try to identify the true, underlying cause of what is affecting their ability to compete or play to their full potential. The experience of not being able to perform on the field as well as in practice can be extremely frustrating and confusing. People just don’t know what to do, and they often can’t see a way to fix it. They’ve tried many different things over and over again, but with no result.

Many times, I see these kids after they have exhausted all other possibilities and methods. In this case, we first have to identify the problem and then start work on targeting that issue (or issues) which can include anything from mental skills to managing emotions. We have many tools available to address this issue, but they must be tuned to the individual. Usually clients begin to notice changes in their ability/behavior after a couple of months of therapy.

These kids, and the people around them, are going through this experience together. It is not an isolated incident, but it is one that affects everyone within that circle. It can almost become a vicious cycle of frustration, confusion, and fear.

Team Dynamic

The second most common includes challenges with the Team Dynamic.

In team sports, the athletes must (of course) deal with their own challenges, but they must also deal with being part of a team. The first requires overcoming challenges individually, and the other demands overcoming challenges as a team and collaboratively. One could say that our work could be divided into two parts: helping an entire team by improving their cohesiveness and communication, and helping individuals to address their personal struggles. This could include anything from miscommunication with coaches, fears of inferiority, or challenges with sub-groups or ‘cliques’. I help these individuals to identify their specific challenges and provide them with the tools needed to become an active part of the team, while navigating and managing these problems in a positive way. Sometimes, these individuals are already very good players with plenty of potential, but the only thing that’s holding them back is their social environment. They go to practice and put in the work, but they don’t get along with their teammates and often feel isolated. There can be many small things that affect the individual and team dynamic.  

..And?

Alright, so you’ve read the stuff. But how can this help you in your intramural league? In the office? In your family relationships?

Here are some basic tools that sports psychologists use with their clients to help them with anxiety related to competition or performance. You might be surprised by how seeing a psychologist can help you.

Focus On What You Can Control

What is in your control? Practicing. Eating well. Getting enough sleep. Being as prepared as possible. What is out of your control? What other people think. How other people do in life. What other people say. Who wins or loses. What you cannot control is impossible to control — I repeat, IMPOSSIBLE! — so take this off your plate. Set your mind on what you can control, instead.

Practice Self-Confidence

Instead of focusing on past failures, focus on past successes. What brought you here today that put you in this competitive position? There are things in life that you did well to get you here in the first place. The more you prepare, the more confident you will be, because at least you won’t be worried about not having done the work.

Set Goals

Set very specific goals that you know you can accomplish. “Having two kids by the time I’m 35” is not an example of something you know you can accomplish. “Exercising for 30 minutes of every day for two weeks” is.

Practice Relaxation

What relaxes you? Is it aromatherapy? A bath? A run? Specific breathing techniques? Start to narrow down the things that give you relaxation (hint: it usually has to do with the mind and body together), and use them leading up to the event.

Find Distraction

It’s ok to distract yourself before a competition if it helps you with your anxiety. You can read a book, talk with coworkers, listen to music, stretch — find something that works for you!

Visualization

This is also known as imagery or mental rehearsal. Imagine each moment of your event, including physical movements. Try to imagine it from your own perspective (not someone watching you), and at the speed in which you will actually do it. Make it as real as possible in your mind and do it step by step.

How Can A Certified Psychologist Help Me?

Think you might be interested in working with a sports psychologist? It bears repeating here that you don’t need to be an athlete to work with one. You don’t have to be anything special to work with one. (Although you are special, I promise.)

When choosing a psychologist of any kind, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. A therapist or psychologist should specialize in whatever you need. The best psychologist for you might be a local psychologist — ask for psychologist recommendations and do your research.

Looking For A Psychologist Around Me

  • Do an online psychologist search to find a psychologist locator/psychologist lookup tool.
  • Look up your options in a psychologist directory for a licensed psychologist in the area.
  • Ask a psychologist office! Many can point you towards a good psychologist/psychotherapist.

Psychologist Vs. Therapist

What is the difference between a therapist and psychologist? Well, both strive to improve people’s lives. And after that, it gets a little murky. One main difference is that psychologists have advanced degrees (often PhDs) in psychology, whereas therapists can have any number of degrees in specific disciplines, such as social work, family counseling, or substance abuse. A psychologist is a social scientist, often having dealt with research or clinical settings, who is trained to study mental process and human behavior. A psychologist and psychiatrist often work together. A therapist is a broader umbrella that many fields fit into, including psychologists.

Alright, there you have it! Sports Psychology in a nutshell. Many thanks to Itzik for his words of wisdom! All this talk about healthy competition almost makes us want to join a soccer league… almost.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

How Do I Achieve My Best Personal Fitness?

Everyone is always talking about becoming a healthier version of themselves, but often people can’t articulate what that actually looks like. Do you know what changes you can make to lead a consistent healthier lifestyle? What tools do you need to achieve your fitness goals? There is no wrong time to start the process of becoming a better you, so why not make this your year. It doesn’t matter that this year has already started, either — don’t let that be your excuse! Here are some tips and pointers on how to lead a fitter life, and how to keep it that way. It is your life, after all — why not start now?

Before you get overwhelmed, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Be strict with yourself on following through with goals, but don’t make it impossible to succeed by adding too many changes at one time. Start with incorporating small changes into your life.

Here are a few things that fit and healthy people do in their day-to-day lives that you can easily do too, with a little encouragement from others and follow-through from yourself. Once these become habits, they will start to become your daily routine, and you may be surprised you ever lived life a different way!

What Do Healthy People Do?

They Eat Well

This one’s a no brainer. But, did you know that many studies show that eating well is more important than exercising if you’re trying to lose weight? Think about this: If you eat a Snickers bar, that’s 220 calories, which is equivalent to running for 25 minutes. It’s much easier to not eat that Snickers bar than it is to run for 25 minutes. Exercise is incredibly important for our all around daily life, but eating well goes hand in hand with feeling healthy and fit. Eating nourishing foods, like lean protein and fiber, helps us feel full longer, stay more alert, and propel ourselves toward our exercise endeavors.

 

They Refrain From Fad Dieting

The word “diet” evokes a particular response in most people. You may feel like you are constantly thinking about going on a diet, but never do, or when you do, you can’t keep the weight off for long. This is because there is no “quick fix” for being healthy, although we are easily persuaded into thinking there is. Fad diets work for a short amount of time, so you may see quick results, but they are usually unsustainable in the long run, which is why we put the weight back on after we’re finished with the diet. Sometimes, we put on more weight than we lost after a fad diet, which can feel even more exhausting. Stick with small changes you can make to your daily routine, and add on new habits every week, so you can change your lifestyle, instead of quickly trying to change your body.

 

They Prioritize Sleep

This one’s a doozy. You know it. I know it. And yet we don’t do it. Why is it so hard to find time to sleep? We feel so great when we get enough of it, so why can’t we prioritize this precious commodity?

We cannot eat well or stay motivated to work out if we’re tired. I know that if I’m up late, I will often set my alarm to wake me up later and forgo the exercise to get a few more zzz’s, which in turn makes me irritated that I didn’t exercise. I’ll often eat worse throughout the day, too.

How to help? Make a bedtime schedule, and stick to it. Give yourself an extra hour in your routine as “getting ready for bedtime”, so you are in bed with the lights out at your designated sleep time. Helpful things for that hour before sleep are an epsom-salt bath, herbal tea with a book, or relaxing yoga poses. Make it fun! This is a lovely part of your day you can look forward to. And make sure to turn off your phone, because the blue light interrupts your sleep cycle. The sooner you turn off your phone and stop looking at it before bed, the better you’ll sleep.

 

They Exercise Every Day

Exercising every day is easier than you think it is. It’s not about “pushing yourself to the limit” or running for an hour every morning; it’s about incorporating activity into your everyday life. For example, if you have a dog, make it a priority to take him or her on a brisk walk for thirty minutes each day (your dog will thank you for it, too!). Or, on your lunch break, do a few flights of stairs. You’ll find that the more you exercise in the little ways, the more you’ll want to start adding movement into your life, like tacking on a yoga class at the end of your day, or getting up a bit earlier for a morning swim. Stop thinking of exercise as a negative thing, and start thinking of it as a fun way to add quality to your life!

There are a few useful ways to help keep you accountable for exercising every day.

  • Make a goal chart. Put it somewhere visible, like on your fridge. Make it for a week at a time, so it isn’t so daunting, and include one goal you have for each day. When you accomplish that goal, color that day in a fun color, so you can see your progress! It’s helpful to have a fun visual to see, and helps you stick to the plan.
  • Download a personal fitness trainer app. There are some free apps available, but paying a few bucks for one is a good investment. These help you track your progress, and help motivate you to keep going.
  • Find a personal trainer and fitness instructor. If you meet with a weekly trainer, they’ll make you want to exercise every day, because they’ll know your goals, see your progress, and reflect what they notice back to you. They’ll encourage you to work toward your full potential as your personal cheerleader. It isn’t just about you meeting your goals, it’s about someone holding you to them. Which brings me to the next item that healthy people do, which is…

 

They Meet With A Personal Fitness Trainer

You may feel like you don’t need someone to help you achieve your fitness goals, but even for the pro, a trainer is incredibly helpful. If you’re a beginner, a private personal fitness trainer will help you acknowledge what you need to change. They will help you identify and rework your eating habits. They will listen to your needs and concerns about your body, and come up with a strategy unique to you to get you where you want to be physically. They are on your team, and they want you to succeed. Check out more on our website about the personal trainers we use and let us know if you’re interested in one of them! We might be biased, but we really love them.

 

How Can I Help Myself Get There?

Make It Easier On Yourself In The Morning

If you plan to work out the next morning, set everything up the night before. I mean everything. Pick out your workout clothes, fill up a bottle of water and put it in the fridge, set out your work clothes for after your workout, and make your lunch. The less you have to think about the next morning, the more you are apt to actually get out of bed and start moving. You won’t be stressed in the morning, and it’ll make you feel better the whole day after your workout.

Learn What Your Body Needs To Eat

You don’t need to eat as much as you think you do. “Portion control” is a scary term, but it really just means that you should listen to your body. Drink two full glasses of water before you eat each meal (often we’re actually thirsty, not hungry), and slow down. Enjoy your food! Food is great, after all, so why not really take time with it? Eventually, you will start to realize what your body needs, and you may not need to eat an entire plate. Leaving food at the end of your meal is OK. Eating your whole plate is OK, too! Just make sure it’s what your body is asking for. Eating nutritious meals also helps with this, because our body craves less of it when we are getting the proper nutrition.

 

Don’t Aim For Perfection

You are not perfect. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re just not. So why pretend that you are Superwoman by expecting your body to perform miracles? Set small goals for yourself that you know you will be able to accomplish. You’ll feel better as you start to transform your daily routine, and as it starts to stick.

 

Find A Workout You Love

There is something for you! I promise! You may think you hate working out, but there is an activity that will make you feel great. You may not be jumping for joy to do it every single day, but it’s the kind of thing that once you start it, you love it. What is it for you? It could be salsa dancing, a mud run, jumping rope, swimming, or jogging with your best friend. Working out doesn’t have to be a chore; it can be something that adds joy to your day.

 

Make Working Out a Social Activity

Similar to having a personal trainer fitness instructor, a personal trainer group fitness instructor works wonders. Find a studio and a class that you love, and stick to it. You’ll meet people in the community who will expect to see you at the group classes, which will hold you accountable. You can also make it a group activity with friends: Take a weekly class together and grab a bite to eat after! Or, instead of grabbing a coffee on a friend date, suggest that you go on a walk together instead. Find social media accounts that inspire you to get up and move. You may even want to create a fitness account of your own!

 

How Do I Find My Personal Fitness Trainer?

Below are ways to find a fitness instructor and personal trainer to work with your personal fitness goals. If you are looking for a personal trainer, this might help you narrow down which type of personal fitness trainer for hire you’re looking for.

Remember, we specialize in matching you with the people you need to reach your health and fitness objectives. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for nutritionists, dietitians, teachers, and trainers, we’ll chat with you to find the best fit!

 

Go To A Local Gym

Most gyms have many personal trainers on staff, so ask your local spot about their options. If you have a gym you already love, it’s a great place to start, because you’ll just add it to your pre-existing routine. If you don’t go to a gym regularly, this is still a great option, because a fitness gym personal trainer will teach you how to use each machine, how much weight to use to achieve your goals, and how many reps you should do. They will essentially teach you how to be able to work out on your own, while still holding you accountable. A Snap Fitness personal trainer or a 24 Hour Fitness personal trainer are both good places to start your search, and they’re available around the country.

 

Hire A Trainer To Come To Your Home

A personal fitness trainer at home is a solid option for busy schedules, because you don’t have to find extra time to make it to the gym. These trainers will often work with what you already have in your home, so it depends on the kind of workout you’re looking for to know if this is a good option for you. Yoga, kickboxing, small weights, and cardio can all work with limited equipment.

 

Meet A Trainer In A Local Park

Lots of trainers meet their clients in a local park! Wander Central Park any day of the week and you’ll see people working out with one another. This is a great way to find a space for free, be outdoors, and meet in a central location. The drawbacks are rain and… people staring at you. But hey, that might help! Check out a personal fitness trainer directory for your area by looking online to see which trainers will provide this service.

 

Work With A Trainer Online

An online personal fitness trainer can be a good option for those who prefer to stay at home but want their trainer to be a specific person. Maybe the trainer doesn’t live in your area, or maybe it’s more affordable than having the trainer come to your home. Whatever your reason, if you don’t feel like you need someone in the flesh, but you still want that extra push, look into this. Many people nowadays also use a fitness personal trainer app for their workouts.

 

Now What?

Go forth and be fit! It’s time to take your life in your hands to become the best possible version of yourself. You only live once, so what are you waiting for?

What tips and advice did we miss? Let us know below in the comments! Check out our website, email us, or call us for more information on how LW Wellness can help you in your search for fitness and nutrition!

How Exercise And All Its Positive Effects Can Be The Ultimate Solution For Busy Mothers

After I had my three girls, I went through a period where I felt sad, lonely and exhausted. I just didn’t want to do anything – especially exercise. The only thing I thought I needed was sleep. I was convinced if I could just sleep for a really long time that would solve everything because I felt so overly exhausted.

Then, a friend who is a personal trainer and a dietitian suggested I exercise 30 minutes a day. I had done a little research about exercise and the brain, and it was obvious to me, of course, that exercise affects our body and makes us look and feel better, but I really wanted to learn about what is really going on when we exercise and how exercise could help me with my mental state as well as my physical state. I decided if I was going to start exercising, I wanted to document the progress that I was making so I could see the effects of what I was doing. I knew if I could somehow quantify the evidence within myself, by actually practicing what I had even preached to other people, it would be worth it. So, I made a decision to document my mental state for one week without exercise. I did that after I researched the effects of exercise on the brain and mood. I wanted to understand exactly what hormones are being released when I’m exercising, and I wanted to make sure I was recording the specific things I was feeling before and after I worked out.

I documented my feelings for one week without exercise and realized what I obviously knew – I felt exhausted, my mood was up-and-down and my emotions fluctuated many times throughout the day. Then, the first day I exercised I spent five minutes after writing about how I felt. I did that for one week. By the end of this week of exercise, I realized that by working out for 20 minutes a day my overall mood had improved, my emotions fluctuated a lot less and the endorphins that were released during my exercise were helping me start my days in a much healthier state of mind. My mood fluctuated less and I was less tired even though I woke up 30 minutes earlier to make that extra 20 minutes in my day for exercise.

What am I trying to say here is, of course, we are busy moms and as I’m sure many of you can relate to, we often feel exhausted and like we don’t have time to do anything – especially adding 20 more minutes to our days for exercise. But what I know is that if you really take a break and think about what you have going in a given week, maybe you can find even three days or two days and document how you feel before and after adding a workout in to your routine.

I started this experiment about 10 year ago, and you are probably wondering if I’m still working out for 20 minutes a day. Sadly, the answer is a big NO, but I will tell you that when I do make the time to exercise at least two or three times a week for even 15 minutes, then I do feel the effects. I do feel better and am able to perform at work a lot more efficiently. I can see the positive effects on my social life, relationships and everything else. My point is that if we all at least make an effort to think about our bodies – particularly the connection between the brain and our physical fitness – and to understand why it’s so important for us to exercise and really know all the positive effects, then maybe we’ll make a bigger effort to exercise and to really give it the time of day. I truly believe you can make a huge difference in your life by making such a small change. The beginning of summer is the perfect time to start a new habit that you can take with you through the new season!

Looking for a fitness expert? Let us know, send us an email or call today!