The League

Dr. Matthew Prowler
Resident Psychiatrist

Dr. Matthew Prowler

Resident Psychiatrist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Stress Can Be Good


How do you handle stress? Are you someone who can ' perform under pressure? The physical signs of acute stress are familiar - a quickened pulse, sweaty palms, "butterflies in the stomach." These are normal physiological responses caused by stress hormones. The evolutionary adaptive fight or flight response was necessary for early man to avoid being eaten by predators. But if this behavior was necessary in the wild, it may seem excessive when deployed for public speaking or game playing. And some 'feel' these responses more intensely than other.

So what happens to performance when we are stressed? Researchers have found that stress can improve focus and help screen out peripheral or unnecessary stimuli. However, it can also cause narrow or rigid thinking, and it may prevent us from effectively analyzing complicated situations, such as reading a defense. And does performance increasingly suffer as stress becomes greater? Evidence suggests not - rather, that individual performance suffers more at very high or low levels of stress but is optimal at moderate levels (stress can also be motivating).

What can an athlete do about his or her reaction to stress? Currently, scientists are finding that relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation reduce a person's subjective feeling of stress. The exciting promise here is that these techniques could actually change our underlying stress hormone levels.

Performing on the NFL stage represents more than just moderate stress. Clearly talent and experience cannot fully predict performance. Gaining composure in a big moment is also about managing your natural stress response. For a QB avoiding a sack, this is a real predatory threat, a fight or flight situation. Players and coaches should be more honest about the high level of stress in the game. We are used to seeing fiery bromides in the locker room. But as far as stress management is concerned, a moment of meditation may be more useful.

By Dr. Matthew Prowler  |  May 8, 2009; 4:43 PM ET  | Category:  Dr. Matthew Prowler , New York Jets , Philadelphia Eagles , Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Is This It For Favre? | Next: Dump the Refs


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I don't think this is very realistic solution. How is a coach supposed to get his team fired up for a game and then sit in lotus and have them all go Zen? I'm not trying to be critical of meditation I just cannot see it working in a locker room.
Talk about Ying and Yang: "We're gonna get ‘em on the run, we're gonna go, go, go, go! -- and we aren't going to stop until we go over that goal line! Don't forget, men -- today is the day we're gonna win. They can't lick us. The first platoon men -- go in there and fight, fight, fight, fight, fight! What do you say, men!! So let's all close our eyes and surrender to the nothingness. For a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. NOW LET'S TEAR THEIR F*(*$#& HEADS OFF!"
Um, not so much...

Posted by: katfish | May 9, 2009 1:11 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company