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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!

What Makes You Happy? And How Can You Do More Of It?

I woke up this morning and reflected on a meeting I had last night with John (name has been changed), a very smart, successful businessman and father of two young children who found out last year he had a tumor and that he might only have a week to live. To make a long story short, further testing revealed that the tumor was treatable, and with chemo, he would most likely make a full recovery. The moment John found out the new prognosis, he felt like he had a new lease on life and vowed to live different from that point forward. He promised to no longer procrastinate on doing the things that he loves or has always wanted to do and to focus more on the people and activities that bring him joy.

 

Upon completion of six months of chemotherapy, John realized that getting the horrific news was the best thing that could have happened to him. On the work front, he changed things in his company and started only doing business with clients he actually wanted to work with. He also invested more time with his family and friends and started focusing on causes that are close to his heart.

 

As I was reflecting on John’s story it got me thinking about how it took a life-threatening diagnosis for him to decide to make a change and dedicate more of his life to the people and things that truly make him happy. Do we all need to get bad news before we do what makes us happy? What if we stop everything we are doing right in this moment and think about what happiness really is?

 

Clearly, I’m not the first one to ask this question — this is an age-old story. But the more I thought about what this means in my own life, the more I wanted to share my conclusions with others and inspire them to think about feasible changes that could start right now. All too often we put off happiness because we wait for external forces. How often do you think, “If only I had more money, I could travel more and vacation more with my family.” Or, “I never have time to relax. I would be a happier person if I just had more time in the day to spend focusing on me.” The truth is, we all probably know people with more money or who seem like they have more time or who get to go the places we always dream about. But are those people actually happier?

 

Seeking happiness starts from within, and the best thing to do is to come up with a clear understanding of what actually brings joy to our lives. So, a great first step is to meditate on what truly makes you happy internally. I encourage you to close your eyes for a few moments and try this guided mediation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDAIO74O27s

 

Then, create a list of things that make you happy or a list of goals that you want to achieve. For some it helps to think of this as a bucket list — what would you do if you only had a short amount of time to live? I took a break from writing to meditate and create my own list, and here’s what I came up with:

 

  1. Spend more quality time with family and friends
  2. Get my Book published and help inspire and empower others with my story and coaching Method called KARMA
  3. Invest in my health and wellness (work out more/do Yoga/eat healthier)
  4. Help people on a larger scale (more talks/presentations)
  5. Work with people, groups, causes on the prevention of mental illness and promotion of wellness
  6. Travel to India and Thailand and other countries and learn as much as I can about other cultures
  7. Empower at risk youth with skills and tools that can help them become more successful in our society

 

I think I could probably spend hours coming up with more to add to this list, but I figure this is a good start. What did you come up with? I’d love for you to share what’s on your happiness list in the comments section here on the blog or on Facebook.

 

Then the question becomes, how can we make this list actionable? I suggest reviewing your list and focusing in on one thing that you currently do, but not as often as you like. What would it take for you to do more of that tomorrow? The next week?

 

What if we set a reminder on our phone to remind us to do one thing each day that makes us happy. It can be a very small thing like getting your nails done because you know that will relax you or reading a book with your child (without thinking about your long to-do list or looking at your phone every few minutes…). The point in actually doing what makes you happy is to FULLY be present while doing it. If achieving your happiness goals seems impossible, break a larger goal into smaller, more manageable ones first! Feel free to share your goals and consult with a professional if you need some guidance and support.

 

I will end with one of my favorite quotes:

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” — Abraham Lincoln

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists, contact us today.

3 Easy Things You Can Do To Be Present This Week

Cup on a wooden table set against the backdrop of hills covered in fog

I woke up this morning in a quiet house somewhere in the Poconos, and it was silent. My husband took the girls skiing and while I wanted to have quality time with my family, I needed to spend quality time with myself – by myself.

At first I felt guilty for not going and was about to judge myself for being “selfish” and wanting quality time with myself. And then I paused…

I took a deep breath and decided to be kind (to myself) instead.

I made coffee and stepped outside in disbelief. Is it sunny outside and warm? After all, it is still February in the Northeast. It’s kind of crazy, but I’m definitely not complaining.

Looking out into nature, I saw trees, grass, and space – all things that we rarely take the time to appreciate. I was able to listen to the sound of the wind and smell the fresh air and appreciate a few moments of quiet, or may I say few moments of sanity.

I took my cup of coffee and I walked barefoot into the grass. I felt the cool, moist feeling from the grass and thought to myself, “When was the last time I allowed myself to just walk into nature without thinking about all the things that I have to do?”

And then I wondered why it is so challenging to find those moments during the week when kids are around and work is very demanding.

We all find ourselves busy with kids, work, household chores, and many, many other things that are important, but what we forget is that those few moments where we allow ourselves to just lie back, relax, and appreciate whatever it is there is to appreciate right in front of us are so rewarding. Why can’t we take more deep breaths and instead of thinking about the future, focus on the present moment?

I’d like to propose this goal for everyone this week: Enjoy the present moment.

Here are three things that you can do to enjoy the present moment…

  1. Listen to affirmations on a regular basis. I highly recommend “Soul of Healing Affirmations” by Deepak Chopra (you can order on iTunes – best $10 you will ever spend!!). In one of my favorite affirmations by Deepak Chopra, he talks about the idea of presence and what it means to be in the present moment. He starts the affirmation with the following: “Today I will find my soul here and now. This information is about the present moment. Make this your promise for today, and when you find that you have wandered from the present moment, ask to be brought back….”
  2. Slow down. Whatever you are doing, make an effort to do it in a slower way. Take your time and work on thinking and doing one thing at a time. Are you reading to your kids? Just read to your kids. Don’t think about the emails or texts you have not answered. Are you having a conversation with a friend? Just talk to that friend, don’t worry about the dishes that aren’t being done or the laundry you have waiting for you.
  3. Observe the feelings in your mind and body without labeling and judging them. For me, I often notice that these feeling are located in my upper chest. I find myself not breathing properly – to the point where I’m almost having shortness of breath. I found that if instead of avoiding the feelings and trying to get rid of them/push them away, I just welcome them without allowing my brain to spin out of control, they will often go subside.

So, what is that one thing that you can do today to help yourself be in the present moment? Well, you have already accomplished one thing by reading this!

So what is the second thing you can do?

#Happy everything

#mindfulness

#LWWellnessNetwork

The Beginning Of A Long Journey

Today’s blog is written by our incredible yoga instructor, Amanda Brown.

I delivered a healthy baby girl on October 15, 2011. Little did I realize how many ways it would change my life. Not only in the normal ways that motherhood does, but it also brought me closer to knowing my own self through what is now a passion for yoga. My yoga experience started in my teen years, but was just a passing fancy. Studies and meeting my future husband took precedence for quite some time, but I dabbled here and there. When I found out I was pregnant, life got upended as every parent comes to know. A friend suggested prenatal yoga and that is where my real journey began.

I joined a yoga studio when I was ready to re-enter the fitness world. This particular yoga studio had a spa-like feel to it and that alone had me hooked. I started with beginner classes, which naturally were packed, and I would always choose a mat in the back row hoping no one would see me (little did I know then the teacher can see the entire class and it doesn’t matter where you sit). I would attend the same two or three teachers’ classes. Their classes always had the perfect combination of breath work, a nice flow that was challenging, fun music, and most importantly, I always left feeling really positive about myself and couldn’t wait to step back on my mat. At the time I was dealing with some body image issues, but yoga seemed to be healing those issues not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.

I gradually started going to the more difficult classes. As my practice began to advance and my mindfulness became more aware, I started to think about becoming a yoga instructor. Yoga had really begun to make an impact on my life. I was becoming more mindful of pretty much everything: my relationships, how I treated those around me, what I was eating, the environment and letting little things go. All of these things had become so much easier since yoga had been in my life. I wanted to teach yoga to make an impact on people’s lives the way it was improving mine. I signed up for a 200-hour, 3-day intensive teacher training in August 2012.

Every day for 30 days from 8 am-6 pm we were at the studio learning everything yoga: history, philosophy, literature, proper alignment, adjustments for postures, meditation techniques, practicing teaching and so on. Normally a teacher training is done over the span of 3-6 months and is done on the weekends. We were in full yoga boot camp. At times teacher training was exhausting — my body ached, my mind would spin from information overload — but I was loving every minute. I learned from the co-teacher, whom I’ve continued studying with to this day, how strong our mind is and how are bodies can do anything, but without our minds, our body is nothing. This lesson was so valuable to me throughout our training. When my body felt like it couldn’t do one more chaturanga or one more downward dog, it was my mind that kept pushing me through the tough moments. Thirty days later we were handed our shiny certificates and I was determined to teach!

I am very blessed to be where I am today in my teaching career. I now have over 600 hours of training in Vinyassa, Ashtanga, Hatha and both Pre- and Post-Natal techniques! And I’m now a teacher in that very same spa-like studio where I was once a very timid member.

My most recent training took place in the motherland of Yoga: India. What an amazing experience it was. More on my India trip in my next blog….

To find out more about Amanda’s services and the classes she teaches, contact us through the website by clicking here.