Stress Busters: Techniques to De-stress

  • Confidence-building self-talk
  • Exercise
  • Refocusing through breath control
  • Peaceful imagery
  • Meditation
  • Reorienting goals
  • Articulating

Every grappler and combat athlete has to find his or her own stress buster by trying out these techniques and choosing one that works best for him/her during mental preparation.

Confidence-building self-talk:

The self-talk that you normally use to build your confidence levels can work on your stress levels, too. When you begin to feel more confident, your anxieties and fears reduce. Emotional balance can be achieved if you are able to keep your confidence level high even as unwelcome thoughts enter your mind and threaten to undermine your composure.


The exercise regimen that you follow for your physical fitness can have a positive effect in reducing stress as well. There is scientific research that shows that physical exercise can boost brain function, perk up your mood, and increase the ability to assimilate information. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and leads to the release of mood-altering chemicals in the brain.

The normal function of the brain is dependent on the volume of blood flow through its blood vessels. The brain relies on adequate blood flow for oxygen supply. If there is low oxygen supply, the brain may not be able to release the beneficial chemicals that effect behavior and mood.

The strenuousness of an exercise routine can lift the senses and invigorate the mind. This is caused by speeding up blood flow to the brain, and the increased oxygen levels release beneficial chemicals that clear the mind of recurring negative thought processes. The physical exertion develops a feeling of well-being in you and also helps you sleep soundly.

Refocusing through breath control:

If stress makes you prone to panic attacks, then you need calming techniques. Refocusing your thoughts through breathing control is an effective way to stress reduction. This method can be used even in the midst of an encounter.

There are situations during an encounter when you are unable to summon the right moves and. if you are already stressed out, this leads to panic. Panic leads to freezing and going blank. To avoid this, you can apply the technique called refocusing that pushes out the panic and focuses your mind back to the task at hand, to help you reestablish yourself in the game.

The technique is based on the principle that “the present is all that matters.” There is no point in feeling upset, and there is also no point in hassling that you may lose the match. The only thought in your mind should be “how do I move forward from here.”

Simple tips to help you refocus:

Once you get yourself into the state of the present, the “here and now” and nothing else, there is a very simple approach you have to follow to stop the panic. You have to regulate your breathing.

If necessary, close your eyes and concentrate on slowing your breath and regulating it. You have to feel yourself inhaling and exhaling. All it takes is a few seconds. As your breathing starts flowing smoothly, you will find yourself calming down, and once you calm down you will be able to focus your thoughts on the moves that you should ideally make.

This is not as difficult as it sounds. If you are into adventure sports, I’m sure you’ve encountered a freeze moment while rock climbing or trekking. What did you do then? You must have taken a deep breath and focused your thoughts on the best way to move a leg or an arm in order to avoid a fall and get out of the spot you are in. It is very similar on the mat, too.

Also known as centering, refocusing can help you regain your composure. As the panic lifts, you are once again able to think clearly. When you stay calm, you can deal with tough situations far better. You can use this method in-between bouts so that you refresh your mind with your strategy for every sequence in the fight. After a while it will become an automatic process for you, and you enter every encounter with a set of tactics and strategies rather than a backlog of worries or negative thoughts.

You can also use this technique if you happen to panic a day before the fight. Simple steps to follow:

Step 1

You should first remind yourself to stop worrying about the match.

Step 2

Bring your thoughts back to the present. Tell yourself that right now, thinking through your plans. Strategies and practice is a lot more important.

Step 3

Carry out breath control for a short while.

Step 4

When your breathing calms you down, use a cue word like “refocus” or “centre”.

Step 5

Then refocus your thoughts on your game plan or mental preparation methods like visualization.

Peaceful Imagery:

Another way to deal with stress and relax the mind in the days preceding a fight is through visualization of happy, cheerful and peaceful surroundings. Recall any environmental scene that created a sense of peace or harmony within you. It can be the beach, snow-clad mountains, sounds of a waterfall, or greenery. These images that made you feel good can serve as a mental retreat or sanctuary away from stressful thoughts.


In meditation, you completely focus your thoughts for a length of time on one particular relaxing thought. During this time, you hear the sound of silence and your mind concentrates fully. The process gives the mind and the body the opportunity to completely relax and rejuvenate. When you consistently use the technique, you fortify yourself against mental burnout.

There are several approaches to meditation. Meditation requires you to get into a comfortable sitting position and then use methods like­

  • breathing
  • the repetition of a “chant” word continuously
  • focusing on a mental image of your choice

In meditation, you learn to hold a thought and go with it for a period of time. Your concentration also improves while your body and mind relax and de-stress.

Reorienting goals:

At times stress can be caused by aiming too high and not being mentally or physically prepared for a challenge. When you tone down your goals to realistic levels and participate in matches that suit your skill level at a particular stage of your career, then the source of stress is removed.


This is a simple process of talking about your anxieties, fears, or nervousness, and not necessarily to a counselors or sports psychologist. You can talk and articulate about your emotional tension to a friend, coach, or family member. Just getting it out in the open instead of internalizing it usually gives a grappler or combat athlete “emotional release” and sets you thinking of solutions to deal with the source of the stress.

Lloyd Irvin is a martial arts coach. He holds the rank of 7th degree black belt in Thai Jitsu, 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 1st degree black belt in judo. In 2002 he was named The United States Judo Federation International Coach of the year. Lloyd’s coaching experience includes having taught Secret Service, FBI & SWAT. Read more on:

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