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Whether it’s on or off the course, it’s important to know how to relax and calm down in times of stress. The Covid-19 pandemic is causing everyone’s stress levels to go up from being cooped up inside, not being able to see friends and family, no sports to watch or play and nothing but bad news coming in. As I’ve been saying in my recent emails, let’s use this temporary setback as an opportunity to learn skills that are going to help you succeed when the season starts up again. To help you do this, here are 7 relaxation techniques for golf to help you deal with stress on and off the course.
Experts on anxiety tell us that breathing is the best stress management tool we have.
When we are feeling stressed, our breathing becomes shallow, quick and erratic, meaning there’s less oxygen going to the brain and focusing the mind becomes harder. The mind can start racing in a negative loop which worsens anxiety.
Whether it’s for better performance in golf or greater well-being in general, proper breathing and relaxation techniques for golf should be used to get control of your physiology and your mental state when you are feeling stressed.
When we deepen and slow down our breathing, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system), which counters the activation in the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response). When we are able to get control of our physical state, we have more control over our mental and emotional state – the mind calms down and we are better able to choose our next move instead of following our thoughts.
Breathing techniques to lower stress
Start with simple box breathing (there are many other breathing “protocols” which can fit different situations) – which has a 1:1:1:1 ratio of inhale-hold-exhale-hole and then repeat it. E.g. 4 seconds of inhale, 4 seconds of hold, 4 second of exhale and 4 seconds of hold. Experiment with longer or short counts to see what works best for you. Studies show that inhales have 10-20% higher oxygen when done through the nose vs through the mouth. Sit with a straight back which facilitates deep belly breathing.
There are now plenty of bio-feedback devices that can tell you your real-time heart rate and HRV (heart rate variability). HRV (in depth definition here) can be considered a measure of how stressed you are – the higher your HRV the better – as it’s showing that the rhythm of your heart beat is able to adjust to the changing environments. Using breathing techniques daily should enable you to increase your HRV numbers and lower stress.
Personally, I find that my meditation time is a great opportunity to practice my breathing and de-stress.
2. Meditation and Mindfulness
Despite being practiced for thousands of years in Eastern cultures, Meditation and mindfulness are becoming increasingly popular ways of coping with today’s higher levels of stress and anxiety. It’s also one of my top relaxation techniques for golf.
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are:
- Increasing self-awareness
- Greater impulse control
- Stress management
- Increasing focus
Meditation and mindfulness are a practice, meaning that it has to be done daily to get the benefits. If you don’t already have a meditation practice, start with 5 mins per day and work your way up to 20 minutes. Doing it in the morning before you check your phone for social media, news, emails and messages is a much better start to the day. Being more mindful puts you in a state of observation – noticing how you are thinking and feeling during an experience instead of resisting and reacting. With practice, you will become better at sidestepping these negative thoughts and emotions that can take away from the beauty of life and hurt your mental game of golf on the course.
As little as one hour less sleep than your mind and body needs each night can cause weight gain, lower testosterone, higher cortisol, emotional instability, fatigue and under-performance over time. Take sleep seriously and make sure you are doing what’s needed to get plenty of REM sleep. Here are some tips to do so:
1. Get to bed early enough to make sure you get 7-8 hours in bed.
2. Don’t use your computer or mobile device at least one hour before bed.
3. Darken the room completely.
4. If you use your phone as an alarm and that’s why it’s beside your bed, consider getting an alarm clock and leave your phone in another room.
5. Try to exercise daily
Even on lock-down we are still allowed out once a day for exercise, so use the opportunity to de-stress. Leave your phone at home and get out into nature – there is a proven connection between time spent outdoors in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. Research shows that exercise lowers the stress hormone Cortisol and increases feel good chemicals in the brain. Try to raise your heart rate for a period of at least 20 minutes each day. If you can’t get out, there are plenty of at home work-outs available on YouTube.
It seems that most of us are continually in search of a missing ingredient that will make us happy and we overlook the fact that most of what we need to make us happy we already have. Have a daily practice of gratitude (in our household we tell each other at least one thing we are grateful for before we eat dinner). I also do daily gratitude exercises right after my meditation. Use mental imagery to take yourself to memories of vacations, loved ones and anything else you are grateful for. Gratitude is proven to trigger the release of feel good chemicals.
6. Spend time away from your devices
“A well of information creates a poverty of attention” – Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon
When I’m not on client calls, I will often put my phone in my car which eliminates the habit of reaching for it. My focus and productivity is much higher because of it. Many of us are suffering from low attention spans, which is another sign of anxiety. Checking your phone constantly only makes it worse. It’s not only the checking of the phone which lowers attention and increases anxiety, it’s what we see on them. When we open our news feed or social media, we open ourselves up to any number of stress inducing inputs and too much information. Phones have also become an escape mechanism from our own thoughts – people are struggling to be alone without them – and without that reflection time, problem solving and coping mechanisms have suffered, meaning more stress and anxiety.
7. Eat and Drink Well
Stress and anxiety seem to go hand in hand with a bad diet. Although we aren’t able to get to the grocery store as often, avoid putting bad food into your body and drinking excessive alcohol, which will lower your defense against stress. Drink plenty of water and have a health balanced diet.
If you’d like more help like these relaxation techniques for golf to increase your mental game tools on and off the course, check out my new eBook, 7 Mental Strategies To Lower Your Scores: