THE BLOG

What We Can Learn From Athletes During This Summer of Sport

09/07/2014 10:23 BST | Updated 05/09/2014 10:59 BST

As we sit on our sofas and bar stools enjoying the spectacle of athletes performing at Wimbledon, the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, we can admire what the human body is capable of at the pinnacle of fitness and the extraordinary mental and physical strength and endurance required to reach that level. I work with many athletes at the top of their game to ensure that they don't burn out; there are many things that we can learn from them, particularly with regards to the stresses that modern lifestyles put on the body.

Athletes need to put as much effort into their recovery and rest as they do their intense training. I have worked with athletes who suffer from sleep disorders because they are not listening to their bodies and are holding onto the idea that they must continually push their bodies to the limit, which leads to stress, anxiety and ultimately burnout. Athletes are under enormous pressure in the run up to and during competitions, which is exacerbated by the world's media putting a microscope on their performance and their appearance for all to criticise. This trajectory of stress and anxiety is not conducive to optimising performance but is not limited to the sporting elite.

In this age where life is dominated by the constant pressure to be available and respond to technology, our sleep wake cycles - our natural circadian rhythms - and our 90 minute energy cycles have been thrown totally out of kilter, to the detriment of our health. It is leading to stress and burnout and my clinics are constantly full of people seeking help for these issues.

Athletes face such problems because their rigorous training disrupts the body's natural cycle. In order for athletes to optimise their performance they have to nourish and rest their bodies to maximise the restorative and healing benefits of sleep when the growth hormone is produced to repair muscles, adrenaline levels fall and the mind is allowed to rest, bringing optimal cognitive performance.

Sleep can be difficult for athletes who are anxious about the pressures of the game and the critical eye of the media. Visualisation techniques, such as imagining a successful outcome, or remembering how the body felt the last time a try was scored, or an ace served, can calm and focus the mind. I also teach people how to breathe properly, helping them activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) - the counter to the body's stress response - it tells the body that a threat is gone and that heartbeat, breathing, and digestive activities can return to normal, healing mode.

The PNS controls countless vital processes in the body - healing, repair, growth, sleep, and anxiety, fear and stress prevents this, and therefore the body, from functioning as it should. Many people who I treat have habituated to permanently living in stress mode without even realising that they've been doing so. The daily routine of poor posture, sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, fear, anxiety, anticipation, living in the head, talking and living too fast, doing too much.

We can all learn from athletes, we can all benefit from managing stress and actually begin listening to our bodies and not live constantly in our heads, overruling the body's needs and demands.