How to Manage Anxiety – Seychelle SUP Talk Stories

Anxiety Check

Hello and welcome to my second “How to” blog post of the year. A new monthly edition to Seychelle SUP for 2024! 

I’m going to talk to you today about anxiety. Whether that’s race day anxiety, start line anxiety, or just general – anxiety. A little bit about what that is, why we have it, and some tips on how to shift it.

This blog is actually a transcription of one of my popular SIC MAUI Talk Stories. In case you’d rather watch the video than read this post, here the link to do so: SIC Talk Stories – Anxiety Check

Disclaimer – I am not a medical professional. I am simply sharing my experience. Please take this with an open mind, body, and heart and what works for you, apply it. My sincere hope is that it helps.

I want to start out specifically talking about race anxiety or start line anxiety because I know all of you are paddlers, and that may be something you experience. I definitely have had my share of anxiety. It’s normal AND it’s important to have tools to be able to notice when it’s happening and to work with it, work through it, and shift it so that stress is not something that continues to hinders your performance.

I can say with 100 percent confidence that our best performance is going to be when we are present, enjoying the experience, and when we are the most relaxed. The more relaxed, the more present you are, the better you see opportunities in the moment, the better decisions that you make in the moment, and the best performance your body’s actually going to provide you.  The more relaxed we can be about our performance specifically, the better performance we’re gonna have.

I could go in two different directions here, and one is that a lot of that has to do with letting go of and surrendering your expectations of a specific result. Just doing your best is literally the best, and that could look a lot of different ways. We really can’t quantify a specific result to performance. We just know that we have our best, we have the best possible, and that’s going to happen when we’re the most relaxed. So we want to do everything that we can to really try to curb any anxiety that we feel about specific results.

This is definitely something I’m speaking from experience with and also with working with paddlers that show up to start lines consistently and how they’re able to give feedback on their experiences as well. We want to be relaxed. We want to be present. We want to be in the moment.

How do I do that? I shift into a mindset or an embodiment of gratitude for just being there on the start line. I think about who I’m lining up against, who I’m competing against that day. I focus on just getting to be there. (whether the weather and the conditions are cooperating or not. remember the quote from Paddle Monster and Larry Cain, “love the conditions”!!)  But really it’s about getting into that mindset of feeling like being there and being present and enjoying yourself is having made it, is the result that you’re looking for, is why you paddle.

So the mind has this amazing ability to be in multiple places in multiple time zones at once. We can be in the past, present, future. We can be all over the place. We can be having make-belief conversations and scenarios in our head. (We do that all the time, right?) And that’s one of the powers that we have of our mind. 

The amazing thing about our body is that it can only be in the present moment. We can only experience our body in the present moment.

So… why am I experiencing anxiety? It’s because I’m not in the present moment.

So what is anxiety? It is… I am either in the past, dwelling on what has happened, and that can be something that I can use to my benefit, to learn from, to be excited about, to be proud of, it’s also something I can dwell on and bring fear from past experiences into current reality.

So noticing if my mind is in the past and that’s causing me anxiety, I need to shift myself into the present moment and notice, “wait, that fear that I have from this past experience actually doesn’t need to be with me in the present moment”. 

Then the other place I could be is in the future that doesn’t yet exist. I’m just making it up in my head. I’m thinking about what could happen. I could be thinking about what I want to happen. And I can think all day long about positives, what I want to happen, visualizating.  Anything that gives a positive emotional reaction, go for it!

Anything that’s giving me a negative reaction or emotion: fear, tightness, clenching, worry, doubt, stress, that’s something that we want release by bringing ourselves back to the present moment.

How many times are we in our head having a conversation with somebody that we will never have? Right? It’s never going to happen the way we imagine it’s going to happen. So, if those thoughts of the future what if, all the things that could go wrong, and, or all the things that could go right, but especially all the things that could go wrong because those are making us feel anxious, just know that there is no way we will ever be able to predict what’s actually going to happen, or how it’s going to happen.

The best possible outcome is going to happen if I can bring myself back into the present moment and be relaxed so that I can make those choices and decisions that I need to make in the moment to have the best possible result. 

 This can be for paddling, this can be for any performance in general.

So, how do I get back into the present moment?

I get back into my body and out of my mind.

Out of the head.

Back into the body.

And how do we get into the body?

With the breath.

The breath brings us into the body.

That’s the best tool that we have in our toolbox. Hands down. The breath. The breath should be your go to. always.

Notice when you’re anxious, where your mind is at. Past, present, future, and if that’s causing you anxiety, bring it back into the present moment by using one of these breathing techniques. 

Let’s try it together and see how it works for you. Whether you’re seated, whether you’re standing, whatever you’re doing. Maybe you can put your feet a little flatter on the ground and just drop your energy down. Slow down.

Take a deep breath in. You can keep your eyes open or closed. And a looooong breath out the mouth.

Keep going like that. Inhale through the nose and then exhale through the mouth. Then almost like you’re blowing out through a straw, with round lips. Slow down the exhale.

And a long, but gentle breath in. Not forced. Keep your inhales relaxed, comfortable, yet deep. deep in your body. Fill your belly, your back and side ribs. And then a longer exhale. Longer exhale than inhale. 

If I’m really feeling anxious, those exhales can initially even be kind of forceful.  Through the straw shaped lips. And then I slow it down.

The inhale stimulates our sympathetic nervous system. So that kind of amps us up a little bit. That’s that energy of up and forward. And then our exhale is parasympathetic. And that relaxes the nervous system. So we want to have longer exhales than inhales.

Closing your eyes can help you come into your body. Because again this is about using the breath to bring us into the body. Start to feel where that breath is going. Feel where you’re tense. And use the breath now, taking it to that area on tension as you exhale, and consciously asking your body to let that go. And so you can continue like this for 10-20 breaths. 

I’m going to offer one more tool you can use for breathing that’s really simple. Some folks find it really helpful to count, like a count of 4 on an inhale and a count of 8 on an exhale, or do more like a square breath, 4 in and 4 out. The tool I want to offer you now is to look for the pause in between the inhale and the exhale. So inhaling for whatever is comfortably deep and nourishing for you and just noticing the pause, that hesitation, that moment before you exhale, and then exhaling out. Noticing the pause at the base of the exhale before you take your breath in. Noticing the pause at the top and then releasing. And just looking for that moment, that pause, it’s almost like time stops in between an inhale and an exhale if you notice it, if you let it.

How many times do you say, “I wish I could slow down.” “I wish things would slow down.” “I wish life would slow down.”  Life doesn’t slow down. We slow down.

This is a simple tool that you can use anytime, anywhere, in the car, in a meeting, while you’re paddling, when you’re at the start line, lining up.  By focusing this much on breathing, we bring the awareness from wherever it is back into the present moment.

And if you’ve been doing this breathing with me for the last few minutes, just notice right now. Do a little check in. How are you feeling? Do you feel more relaxed? Do you feel more grounded?

So here’s an example of my story… I was surfing on my Atlantis 14 foot race board and the waves were pretty fun and I was a little bit outside my comfort zone. I had actually forgotten my leash because we had just moved and so I was only using a bungee with a carabiner. And it broke.

I wipe out. The bungee snaps. and I’m swimming back to the shore, throwing my paddle. I get back to the shore, and I have a fear of sharks. I wish I didn’t, and I don’t know why. If I can see them, I’m not afraid. But I get really anxious when my leash breaks, and I have to swim back to the shore, it’s big fear for me. So I get back to shore and I’m catching my breath, got my board, rolled up the beach and I’m just sitting there and I’m trying to decide if I should go back out, if I should try and tie the bungee back together and make it work for a little bit longer of a session. And while I’m doing that, the next thing I notice is all around me are little hatching baby turtles crawling into the water.

So literally my board had washed up in the perfect place that I got to witness a nest of baby turtles hatching. It was the first nest I’ve seen hatch all year. And I was like, “Thank you Life.”  If my leash hadn’t broken, I wouldn’t have gone back to the beach and I wouldn’t have got to see that. 

 We just never know what’s in store for us and sometimes what we think is a sucky situation turns into something really beautiful and wonderful. 

 If race day anxiety is something that you suffer from and you’d like to learn more tools and practises for staying present, relaxed, and focused, so you can achieve your best possible results, please reach out.  I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Paddle Coaching where mindset training is just as important for success as improving your fitness and your technique. As Suzie Cooney from Suzie Trains Maui  says “The mind wins first” and I couldn’t agree more.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you take some time to breathe and be in the present moment today and every day. 

Happy paddling!

Stoked and Grateful,