We know setting goals and sticking to a routine is paramount when it comes to our physical fitness and nutrition. In tandem, these things are like tracks for us to stay on. The routine is the vehicle and the goal is the big target. Smaller, incremental goals act as the engine. Managing personal progress like this ensures we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We stay on a steady trajectory.
The approach to staying on trajectory with our mental fitness should be the same.
“When you're talking about performance, or getting ready to play, there's something called the arousal curve,” Amanda Joaquim, the Raptors physiotherapist, explains. “Basically, if you’re too low, you’re not going to play your best. If you’re too high and you tip over, you’re not going to play your best. That's when you're trying too hard.”
In order to maximize a player’s performance, Joaquim says, they need to figure out what works best for them.
For an athlete, this could be listening to upbeat music to get them in the zone before a game. Or doing breathing exercises to calm them down. Most pros at the Raptors' level understand where they mentally sit before a game. They know what they have to do to bring themselves up or down. Still, Joaquim and the team’s coaching staff have still seen athletes through plenty of bumps in this process.
The playoffs bring with them a host of new expectations and emotions. So do injuries, illnesses and trades. Joaquim has also seen regular things like seasonal changes affect players' moods and energy levels.
A player could be getting into their own heads or experiencing the mid-season drag of January. Whatever the case, the coaching staff is there to help them get to their optimal resting state. Most of us don’t have a host of professionals to coach us. But we do have personal networks we can learn to lean on in the same way.
Reach out to friends, family, or people we trust. It’s a good way to talk about how we’re feeling and help figure out how to adjust. It can be overwhelming and isolating to navigate periods of change. Sometimes we press on, using our routines as anchors. We might be less inclined to notice or give much importance to our mental state during these times. Maybe we believe that the sooner we resolve the situation the sooner, we’ll get back to feeling normal. But the opposite is true. The more we understand the ways we respond to stress and success, the better equipped we’ll be to balance ourselves on the arousal curve.
Remember too that the curve, and our mental fitness, are fluid. We aren’t locked into feeling one way. If something has us feeling overwhelmed, or in another mental extreme, there are practical steps we can take. Think of things like:
Taking a walk
Putting down our phones
reaching out to someone we trust.
All these actions can have an immediate impact.
"It's about knowing ourselves and what's important to us,” Joaquim says.