Check out our Facebook page for regular posts on mental health and wellbeing – You Tube videos, podcasts, articles and links to some great resources. We are posting new articles, research, tips, and videos all the time so keep a look out. Find us on Facebook and Insta @ Performance_Edge_Psychology.
ABC News article about Mental Health in Athletes during COVID19 where Caroline was interviewed Link Here
Caroline’s article on the importance of friendship as published for Your Life Choices Link here
Friendships aren’t just about having people to share experiences with. As psychologist Caroline Anderson explains, friendships are crucial, not only to our mental, emotional and overall health, but also to fulfil an innate human need.
Learn why we crave close-knit friends, how to have micro-moments of connection with friends and strangers alike, and find out the steps you can take to improve and expand your friendship circle. How many friends do we need for good mental health?
If good friends are so important to mental health, it begs the question: does having more friends mean having better health?
The internet is awash with what Ms Anderson refers to as ‘pop psychology’, citing a so-called magic number of friends to aim for. “You’ll often read that having three to five friends is a nice amount. But I think it’s as simple as having one close connection,” she says. “We can have many connections around us, but if those connections aren’t meaningful – if they’re not based around emotional intimacy, developing trust, giving back and connection – then they aren’t going to be that effective anyway.”
So, rather than thinking about quantity, focus on the quality and variety of your friendships, says Ms Anderson. “Think about the strength of your connections. The types of friendships are important too. Friends can play different roles in our lives and we can have different friends for different kinds of relationships.”
From deep friendships to mates (and workmates) that you share good times or a funny story with, the importance of human connections in life is in fact no laughing matter. According to Ms Anderson, having close bonds with people actually fulfils a deep evolutionary need. “If you think about our evolution as human beings, we are really designed to be in social groups,” she says. “[As part of a tribe] we could hunt larger amounts of food that we couldn’t do by ourselves. We could build better shelter, have better protection from predators.
“Today, we have these huge societies and very complex social networks, but that desire to still have a close-knit community around us for our safety is really important.” So crucial are these connections that, according to some researchers, the human brain evolved with a clever protective mechanism that kicks into gear when we’re socially isolated. Even today, this mechanism can affect the sleep of lonely people, according to one study.
“In this particular study,” explains Ms Anderson, “the participants who described themselves as lonely had more of what’s known as ‘micro-awakenings’ in their sleep.” Micro-awakenings are small moments in which you wake up mid-sleep, but don’t remember; just short snippets of time where you rise a little from your slumber. “The theory behind this link is if you’re lacking social connection and support, you don’t feel safe when you’re going to sleep,” says Ms Anderson. “If something bad were to happen in the middle of the night, there’s no one out there to protect you.
“Early humans literally weren’t safe when they were asleep and away from their tribe. So, [if you’re lonely], your brain won’t let you go into a full sleep mode.” As well as potentially getting a better night’s sleep, one of the more obvious mental health benefits of friendship is simply having someone to share your day-to-day life with, says Ms Anderson. “The process of just being able to say things out loud, in itself, is an incredibly healing and therapeutic thing to do,” she says. “Sharing your experiences, thoughts, feelings … your ups and your downs.
“Then there’s all the fun stuff that comes with having friends – being able to engage in activities together.” For those struggling with depression and/or anxiety, giving a voice to what you’re going through can bring particular benefits, says Ms Anderson.
“A really important intervention [or practice] that I do with my clients is slowly encouraging them to have the strength and courage to open up to their friends about what they’re going through,” she says. However, sharing mental health struggles “can be one of the most challenging things to even contemplate” for some people, says Ms Anderson. “My clients often say, ‘yeah, I’ve got these friends around me, but no, I could never tell them that I’m seeing a therapist or that I’m struggling with depression or on antidepressants’,” she says.
“In all honesty, though, it can be one of the most powerful things that happens. When they do start talking about their mental health issues, a lot of the time their friend will say, ‘I’ve had that too’, or ‘my mum/my friend has gone through something similar’. “So it really normalises these issues. And just to be heard and supported, even if the friend just listens and does nothing else, can be incredibly powerful.”
With so many connections taking place on social media these days, do we still need to spend time with friends in real life to get the benefits? Absolutely, says Ms Anderson. “There is a small connection that happens over social media. You can be in the loop about where people are or what they are doing, for example, but in terms of a benefit to our well-being, it’s the face-to-face connection that really makes a difference.”
If you’re feeling socially isolated, there are some simple yet effective ways to improve and expand your friendship circle. “The first approach is to broaden or strengthen the relationships that you already have,” says Ms Anderson. “Start small. Look around at the people already in your social structure. Ask yourself: who could I do more things with or have more connection with? Who could I message? Who could I catch up with for a coffee?”
Once the social meet-ups or activities are happening, the next step often involves making the connection between you and the other person more meaningful.Thinking about possible conversations ahead of time can be helpful for people who struggle with social anxiety, or who just find conversations difficult, suggests Ms Anderson. “Think about what questions they might ask you. For example, if they ask you how you’re going, how can you answer in a meaningful way?”
A helpful saying that Ms Anderson gives her clients is: ‘Add one more’. “You give your normal answer to the question, but then add one more sentence … add one more piece of information. It helps get you out of your comfort zone. It’s very simple, but it really helps get the conversation flowing.” “So rather than just replying, ‘Oh I’m fine, thanks’, when asked how you are, add one more sentence such as, ‘I went to a great restaurant last night’, or ‘I’ve taken up paddle-boarding, and I’m really enjoying it’ or ‘Work has been really busy, but I’ve got some annual leave coming up’.” When it comes to what else you can bring to the conversation, Ms Anderson says to “have some pre-planned questions before you meet up, and make them interesting, make them a little bit different.” Instead of asking broad, open-ended questions such as ‘How are you?’ or ‘What’s new?’, Ms Anderson suggests you get a bit more specific. For example, ask how a particular project they’re working on is going, or about a specific person in their life. “This shows your interest, develops the connection and then people want to give back and ask more meaningful questions of you too.” Another approach for women lacking social connections is to cast your friendship net further afield and make new friends. “This is where technology can be really helpful,” says Ms Anderson.
She suggests the MeetUp website, which lists social groups that you can connect with in your local area. “They cover every hobby and interest out there. For example, if you love bush-walking but don’t have anyone to go with, there are groups for that. It’s happening all around us!” A final piece of advice from Ms Anderson is to practise connecting with people in micro-moments. Micro-moments are short connections that you can experience with anyone: friends, colleagues, strangers, even people you may never see again. “You might be at work and talking about what you did over the weekend. These types of conversations can sometimes feel really superficial. But if you put in some effort and bring some authenticity to conversation, it can feel really heart-warming and genuine.”
In terms of the benefits of micro-moments, Ms Anderson refers to the interesting work of American researcher and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson. “What she found was that these micro-moments can actually regulate your heart rate and release a burst of the feel-good hormone oxytocin.” “So even if you have no one around you, no close friends, you can have a genuine connection with the cashier person at the supermarket. Stop, make eye contact, ask them how their day has been. “In our busy world, it’s something that we forget to do. Just stop and be aware of the positivity and warmth that comes from general human connection.”
Caroline was asked to present to the Australian Olympic Commission and the Olympic athletes on managing Mental Health During COVID19 in April 2020.
Caroline was asked to provide commentary for Reuters on the mental health impacts of COVID19 on athletes. Click – Reuters Article
Fear of the unknown: Locked-down athletes face mental health challenge
“That was my hugest fear, not being able to do what I love which is swimming, and if I couldn’t do that for six months, I was getting pretty edgy about it,” Chalmers told Reuters by phone from South Australia. “I love training and I love exercising. I think I love training more than I love racing.” Chalmers is one of thousands of athletes whose dreams have been put on hold following the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, while thousands more around the world are in lockdown with their sporting careers shelved indefinitely. “Unknowns are quite challenging, especially for athletes whose days are mapped out from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep,” Chalmers added. “And that’s everybody’s fear, and especially mine, getting out of that structured routine and just trying to work out what to do with that free time now.”
Health experts warn that a prolonged isolation could take a big mental toll on people whose livelihoods and self esteem are intrinsically linked to competition. “A lot of athletes are still in an initial shock phase, probably confused and also with some relief after all the chaos,” Caroline Anderson, a psychologist who works with professional and Olympic athletes in Australia, told Reuters. “Probably their two main coping strategies in life are having that competitive edge and being able to really push themselves physically for six-seven hours a day. They haven’t got that anymore which is very difficult.” Chalmers has taken to yoga, hiking and an exercise bike to keep in shape mentally and physically while he awaits the arrival of a loaned swimming pool housed in a shipping container for his back yard. Former Olympic butterfly champion Chad le Clos is trying to make the best of the situation by tethering himself to a bungee cord as he swims in his own small backyard pool in Cape Town. “It is not ideal, but you have to be creative given the limitations you have,” the South African told Reuters. “That will help to keep me going.” The top athletes possess exceptional drive, talent and the ability to perform under relentless pressure but they are no less vulnerable to mental health problems. Many have spoken openly of their battles with depression and their recoveries from nervous breakdowns. Others carry their burdens quietly. A slew have committed suicide in recent years. Self-isolation raises the threat of acute psychological events, and not just for athletes with pre-existing conditions, psychologist Anderson said. “That sudden stopping of the sport, from a physiological or biological standpoint, there’s a reduction in endorphins but also (a loss of) identity,” she said. “They see themselves as athletes and sport is very tied up in that. Without the sport, the inability to train, these are absolutely risk factors.”
Many athletes are putting a brave face on the lockdown, converting garages and bedrooms into home gymnasiums and posting cheerful videos of themselves on social media keeping fit by “bench-pressing” their children. Tennis great Roger Federer cheered fans with a video of himself practising trick-shots against an outdoor wall as it snowed at his Switzerland home. American middle distance runner Emma Coburn, who took bronze in the 3,000-metre steeplechase at Rio, told Reuters: “I’m not feeling stress or anxiety about it. I enjoy in general being at home.” But the weeks and months of the lockdown will be a time when mental health experts on the payroll of teams and federations earn their keep as they try to plot a path for athletes in what is effectively uncharted territory.
Presentation for Michelin Junior Racing Program
Caroline in action presenting to the @porschecars_au @carreracupaus@michelin Junior Racing Program Australian today at @porschemelbourne
These drivers are the top juniors in Australia and was a real pleasure to talk all things mindset and mental preparation for elite performance. Thanks to @motiv8_t for having us. Got to have a quick tour of the workshop too! #michelinjuniors
Podcast – Motiv8
You can listen from you preferred podcast app!
Caroline presented at the La Trobe university Cycling Classic on Mental Health in Sport.
Podcast Special Guest – Potential Psychology
Listen to it here
Performance and Wellbeing Video
Check out our awesome video on the link between performance and wellbeing – we interview some great Aussie athletes and hear about their perspective.
Interview with Crossing the Line
Listen here for Caroline’s interview on mindfulness and wellbeing in sport.
Radio Interview – “The Home Stretch” July 2016
Caroline’s YouTube Clip
Lorna Jane Blog Articles
Our Clinic Director was recently asked to write a few articles for the popular Blog “Move, Nourish, Believe”. Caroline wrote two articles – Find there here
ABC News Article
ABC News Article Click here to read an interesting article ABC news National Sports Editor interviewed Director Caroline Anderson – on ADHD in elite sport.
Check Out Our New Social Media Posts
And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Insta @performanceedgepsychology.
Our Performance and Wellbeing Video
Watch the video below – By Performance Edge Psychology. We aim to spread the word about the connection and importance of wellbeing and performance in all areas of life. Hear about what some of our most successful Olympians have to say about what the word wellbeing means to them and the link between wellbeing and perforamnce.
Presenting @ Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers in Melbourne and Sydney Sept 2017
“Improving Wellbeing and Performance”
Women’s in Sport and Ice Hockey Summit – September 2017 (presenting on Athlete Mental Health)
WON – Women’s Olympic Network – Oct 2017
I was very proud to be part of the idea, development behind and become an Ambassador for the first Women’s Olympic Network. The afternoon tea was a tremendous success with so many wonderful and talented female Olympians, with the aim to assist with connection, networking, supporting, sharing and celebrating with current and former Olympians.
Caroline Anderson – Ambassador for Women’s Health Week
Women of Sport – Margot Foster
June 2017 Caroline Anderson – Pictured With Danni Roche OAM, Lauren Burns OAM, Victoria Roberts MBA)
Olympians in Business – Lunch 2017
Podcast Interview for Crossing the Line Sports – June 2017
Expert Commentator for Spring St (US arm of the Mamamia Network)
Caroline was recently asked to contribute to an article on anxiety in the city. Find the article here http://www.spring.st/city-causes-anxiety-fixes
Recent News Story on Caroline Anderson and Performance Edge Psychology
Read it here http://www.bizhubmaroondah.com.au/content/1493/
The Wellbeing Project @ Nicholes Family Lawyers March 2017
I came to present The Wellbeing Project to Nicholes Family Lawyer in March 2017. Interestingly, I happened to come on a very busy and pressured day. Some solicitors were unable to attend at the last minute. During the workshop we discussed this and it highlighted how important self care, self awareness and being mindful in a high performance environment is. In this session we focused on the concepts of wellbeing in the workplace, the neuroscience of stress, mindfulness, mindfulness and performance, flow, acceptance, uni-tasking and being technologically mindful. It was a great interactive session and had much positive feedback.
The Wellbeing Project @ Gilbert+Tobin – February 2017
In February 2017 we presented The Wellbeing Project to Gilbert+ Tobin – a leading law firm in Melbourne. We covered so many topics in this two hour session with the aim of improving wellbeing and performance in the workplace. It was a privilege to share my personal experiences and psychological knowledge of high performance environments with the talented and hard working associates and partners. We know that rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are high amongst Solicitors/Barristers and that is why this work and conversations are so important and I am thankful for this organisation in addressing these issues.
Crossing the Line Summit – February 2017
It was a real honour to present at the Crossing the Line Summit in Sydney. So many important themes and take home messages. Some key points were around wellbeing, mental health, athlete transition to retirement, career, identity, and doping. It was an honor to be on the panel with Kim Brennan Olympic champion, Vickey Roberts olympic rower, Jenni Screen Olympic Basketballer, Jade Edmistone Swimmer. Today also opened my eyes to some issues I knew little about such as gender transition in sport and doping in sport especially cycling. It was great to be there and be part of an open/honest discussion and to be able to contribute in a small way.
Olympians Gala Dinner November 2016
I had a wonderful night at the Olympians Club Gala Dinner and was thrilled to meet Dawn Fraser and hang out with my awesome friend and gold medalist Lauren Burns and many other lovely people. The highlight of the night for me was when Daniel Kowalski spoke on stage honestly about the reality and impact of competition anxiety. It had the whole audience talking about his comments and congratulation him on his eloquence and authenticity as this is still an area that we often don’t acknowledge or talk about.
Ever Wondered What Actually Goes On In A Therapy Session?
Over the years – there are times when I tell people I am a psychologist I get met with these responses – “Are you psychoanalysing me right now?” “What am I thinking?” and “So you just sit there and listen to people talk all day?” It makes me think there are still quite a lot of misconceptions about what psychologists actually do and how we do what we do. We do not have special powers that can measure your whole personality within moments of meeting you, we are not psychics and there is a lot more to being a therapist than just listening (although of course empathic listening is important).
So what is it we do?
Psychologists have studied the factors that influence the way that people think, feel and behave, and use evidence-based strategies and interventions to help people to overcome challenges, improve their general functioning, performance, wellbeing, relationships and health. There are many different types of psychologists – clinical, sports, educational, health, forensic, organizational, neuropsychologists and counseling psychologists.
In my private practice I cover a wide range of areas predominantly clinical psychology (dealing with mental health conditions) and performance psychology (improving performance and managing anxiety in sporting and workplace contexts). This includes seeing both adults, adolescents and children with depression, anxiety disorders and other complex mental health issues. I see people with substance abuse, relationship issues, anger management problems, self esteem, and sleep difficulties. I also work with people wishing to improve their wellbeing and performance in sport or in terms of their career.
Many people actually find it really hard to make the decision to see a psychologist. It can be a really big step to take, to acknowledge there may be a problem that you need help with. There may also be stigma attached with the idea of seeing a psychologist – “only crazy people need to see a psychologist” or a belief that seeking help is somehow a sign of weakness. I really understand how difficult that first step can be for some people and my aim to always to make people feel as comfortable as possible, reduce the stigma, noramlise the process, and be able to engage with clients who walk into my rooms on an authentic level, and in a meaningful way. Basically I want my clients to know I care about them, will support them and try to connect with them in a sincere and honest way within a safe, relaxed and confidential environment.
The very first session is really all about finding out what prompted our client to seek help, a bit about who they are as a person and their background including work, family and social life. We need to do an assessment in the first session as to what is going on and form an opinion as to the predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective factors for our clients – which is basically a formulation of the factors that has lead the client to be experiencing what they are currently experiencing. We need to asses if the client is experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition and what the priorities for treatment are.
It’s really important to provide feedback about the assessment, then work together to come up with a plan for treatment, goals, understand the expectations of therapy and how long it might take. I also believe its really important to give my clients as much information and education about the issues they are struggling with as knowledge is power. For example I may have a client that’s having issues with anxiety in the workplace or in anticipation of upcoming competitions/tournaments. I need to ensure they leave my rooms with a really good understanding of how anxiety works, the vicious cycle it creates, what causes it, and what perpetuates it.
In my next post I will delve into what goes on after the first session. What kinds of treatments can a psychologist provide? What kinds of strategies? Do they work?
Performance Edge Psychology Director, Caroline Anderson – Named A “Great Australian” At The Great Australian’s Gala Dinner on the 15th October 2016
50 Great Australians were honoured on the night including Ray Martin, Kitty Chiller, Nova Peris, David Malouf, Normie Rowe, Wendy Matthews, James Morrison, Shane Kelly, Mark Thompson, Carol Cooke, and Duncan Armstrong to name but a few. A wonderful night and it was for such a great cause – raising money and awareness for Growing Hope, a charity providing support to those left behind by the tragedy of suicide. For more info visit http://greataustraliansgaladinner.com.au
Interview with Lydia Lassila and Liz Ellis
Lydia Lassila is one powerhouse of ambition, strength, determination and courage. She currently holds three world records, with the latest being the first women in history ever to perform a quad-twisting triple somersault. This jump was the most difficult jump ever done by a female aerial skier and earned Lydia a Bronze Medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. In 2010 she won an Olympic Gold Medal in Vancouver. Lydia has two children as well as being a successful entrepreneur having launched her company Body Ice in 2006. She wrote an autobiography called “JUMP” and has a documentary on her achievements titled “The Will To Fly”. She has always be a real role model to me and I really wanted to know what motivates her, how she manages being an athlete, entrepreneur and mum, and what she thinks about the gender gap in sport – so I decided to ask her!
1. How did you first become involved in your sport?
I had retired from gymnastics and was looking for a new challenge. At the same time The Olympic Winter Institute (OWI) were looking for ex gymnasts to begin a pilot programme to see if they could convert gymnasts to aerials skiers. I jumped at the opportunity!
2. Why do you think the Australian women have dominated in Freestyle Aerial Skiing as opposed to the men’s team?
Because we’ve generally only ever recruited women and ran a women’s program. We’ve had a couple of male aerial skiers in the past (90’s), but since those times David Morris was the first to really commit and fight for a spot in our team. He persisted and is now one of the best male aerial skiers in the world! Pretty good odds and we now have started to recruit more males:)
3. What are some of the challenges of being an elite female athlete? Have you noticed any differences between female and male athletes?
Not in our sport – male and females are rewarded equally. However, there’s an enormous difference between the profiles of various sports in Australia where certain athletes/codes receive a much larger financial reward and also receive more media and more recognition in general. It doesn’t mean they train harder or a better than the rest of us, but they certainly are rewarded more.
4. Why were you so determined to become the first woman to perform the sport’s most complex aerobatic manoeuvre?
Because I really wanted to prove that women were just as capable. I believed I could do it and it was important to see it through.
5. In your experience, how do you feel the media portrays female athletes? Have you ever had to face negative public scrutiny?
I prefer to be recognised for my on field performance rather than off field so I haven’t put myself in the situation of being publicly scrutinised. I think the media is improving in how they portray female athletes and the focus has shifted from physical attributes to physical performance – a step in the right direction.
6. Being the founder and director of a successful business, what issues do you think women face in the corporate sector?
I think the corporate sector is also shifting. More and more women are being recognised/respected and rewarded for their business performance however, those women generally have to really fight hard (harder than their male counterparts) for these positions. I enjoy running my business and I don’t feel that being a woman has hindered me in any way.…. I suppose I don’t get intimidated very easily:) It’s quite funny actually, most people assume I’m just the face or ambassador of BodyICE and are usually quite shocked when I tell them that I designed the products and built the business from the ground up (whilst being an elite athlete)!
7. How do you balance being an athlete/entrepreneur and a mother to two young children?
It’s not an easy juggle that’s for sure!! I find myself constantly prioritising my To-Do list and trying to focus on one thing at a time – which my experience in sport has certainly helped me with. I also have the right support team. We have a live in nanny who helps with the kids when I’m off at meetings or training. I also choose to work from home and have created a satellite team because I like the flexibility/freedom and being close to my kids(and I like hanging out in my trackies). I check in with my BodyICE team daily to make sure we’re tracking in the right direction. So all in all, I think I’ve designed a set up that works for me and my family whistle allowing me remain productive in sport and business.
8. What personal attributes to do you think athletes can offer in the world of business?
Athletes know how to work hard. They know how to set goals and make a plan to achieve them. They know how to handle being out of their comfort zone and managing risk and they know how to perform and deliver under pressure – all crucial for success in business.
8. You have decided to return to training and compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, your 5th Olympics. How did you come to this decision, was it a difficult decision to make and what kind of challenges and sacrifises to you expect to encounter on this journey?
There are certainly going to be some challenges as I have a lot on my plate these days. However, I arrived at the decision quite easily:) I just love being an athlete and the thrill and feeling of competing on the international stage is irreplaceable – no matter how much you jam into life and try to move on. I figure, if the motivation and love is still there, then I shouldn’t deny it. Aerial skiing isn’t a sport you can do recreationally so when it’s over, it’s over and the last thing I want to live with is regret of not trying to go to a 5th Olympics.
Liz Ellis is one of the most respected names in netball, with a remarkable 18 year elite career including 2 Commonwealth Gold Medals, 3 World Championships, 4 National League titles, 4 Most Valuable Player awards and an Australian record of 122 Test matches played. In 2009 Liz became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours for “services to netball and the encouragement of women in sport, and to the community through support for a range of charitable organisations”. Liz is also an experienced broadcaster and media personality. Liz has also always been one of my role models so I contacted her to be interviewed! (Liz gave birth to her second child in April this year so I was so thankful to her for answering my questions!)
1. How did you first become involved in your sport?
My mum played and so I followed her.
2. What are some of the challenges of being an elite female athlete?
For me it was about trying to make enough money to live on whilst pursuing an elite career in a sport that was largely amateur while I played it.
3. Have you noticed any differences between female athletes in sports such as netball and male athletes in sports such as the AFL?
There are many differences between them – too many to analyse in a paragraph. At the end of the day though there are plenty of similarities too.
4. In your experience, how do you feel the media portrays female athletes?
The portrayal of female athletes by the media has changed over the years since I have been involved. Whilst the quantity of media coverage is increasing at a glacial pace, the quality has improved markedly. Whereas in years gone by the coverage would be somewhat patronising now it is informed and opinionated.
4. Can you tell us about the Liz Ellis Goals for Girls Foundation and why this is important to you?
The Goals 4 Girls foundation is my small way of giving back. AT the moment we are funding 2 scholarships for young indigenous women in the Tiwi islands to work as teacher’s aids at Tiwi College. I feel that we are making a difference to the lives of many young girls in this manner.
5. You hold a number of board positions. What do you think that women can contribute to leadership positions within sport?
Women bring a different experience to leadership. From a board point of view this is important as diverse boards tend to produce better outcomes.
6. How do you balance being an athlete/business woman and a mother to two young children?
I am very strict with myself about managing my time. I prioritise my children first but I also ensure that they understand that there are times when I have to work and that is important too. My husband and I try to co-parent so it allows us to work on our businesses and enjoy parenthood.
I am grateful to Lydia and Liz for taking the time from their busy schedules to chat with me.
Speaking at the MCG Women of the MCC – Celebrating the Olympics night – Oct 2016
How Does Your Negativity Bias Affect You?
Did you know that we all have a negativity bias? This is the phenomenon where negative events, thoughts and feelings have a greater effect on us than positive events of equal intensity. The amygdala (our fight or flight response otherwise known as the alarm bell of your brain) uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news: it’s primed to go negative. Our brains are built to be more sensitive toward the negative, it stems from a protective evolutionary response to keep us out of danger. That’s great, but in today’s complex society it gets overused. Having a negativity bias is no longer necessary for our survival, but our brains are still wired to constantly be on the lookout for those saber tooth tigers coming to eat us in our caves.
We have all experienced it… you know when you hand in that report, do a presentation, or finish a competition and you may get loads of positive feedback from colleagues, managers, or team mates. But there may be one piece of advice, constructive criticism or comment in amongst all the positive that gets to you. It feels personal, it feels hurtful or it feels unfair. And that one thing goes round and round it you head and you can’t stop ruminating about it. It’s a common theme with the clients I see in my private practice.
Part of this negativity bias is that we are more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. For positive experiences to resonate, they have to occur much more frequently than negative ones. This of course can lead to an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking, and the problem is that mostly we are not even aware of it.
With no awareness of it, the negativity bias can have a serious impact on your happiness and quality of life. It might affect your sense of wellbeing, personal relationships, career prospects or even choices you make when presented with new opportunities. So, recognising this pattern of thinking in your life is the first step to change.
Simple as it sounds, gratitude is another antidote to this negativity bias. Actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your health, wellbeing, relationships, and quality of work. How? It helps to re-wire the neural pathways in your brain to counteract the tendency to focus on the negative. I know gratitude journals are quite trendy right now, but don’t worry – if writing a journal is not for you, just try and think about 3 things you are grateful for at some point throughout the day.
And lastly, when something positive happens, try to take a moment to savor the experience. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets archived in your long-term memory.
Caroline Anderson is a Psychologist and Olympian, and is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. She sees a range of clients in her private practice and her company delivers presentations to athletes, sporting organisations, businesses and school on enhancing performance and wellbeing through evidence based, psychological and innovative approaches.
Please do not hesitate to email with any questions or comments – firstname.lastname@example.org
August 2016 – Mindfulness Presentation to Price Waterhouse Cooper
“Why I wish I had known about Mindfulness when I competed at the Olympics…” July 2016 Written for Victorian Olympic Council
Mindfulness is a hot topic in current psychology, the media, in business and the world in general. I sort of feel like there is a “mindfulness revolution” going on and over recent year something I have become both personally and professionally passionate about. Why? Well, I guess I can see it was something that was missing from my 2004 Olympic preparation. Mindfulness has been around for a long time but wasn’t really applied to sporting contexts until around 2006. I wish I had the skills of being a mindful athlete back then, but I am so happy that now as a psychologist I can teach mindfulness skills to athletes, sporting organisations, coaches, schools and the corporate sector.
Mindfulness is gaining a great deal of attention along with more research to scientifically back up the benefits. Global companies such as Google now embrace it, world class athletes like Kobe Bryant promote it, of course Oprah loves it and locally even the AFL are on board.
But what exactly is Mindfulness? It is basically about feeling more balanced, being in-tune with the present and able to respond to life with openness, clarity and acceptance. Mindfulness helps train the brain to help us stay focused, avoid distraction and perform at our best.
It is not a new concept, with its roots stemming from Buddhism, yoga and even martial arts. It is increasingly recognised as an effective way to reduce stress, raise self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, assists with memory, attention and decision making and improve work and sporting performance.
I have found that a lot of people have now heard the word on the street that mindfulness is good for us – but lack a deep understanding of what it is and how to apply it. Put simply, mindfulness is a process of awareness, not thinking. It’s about experiencing the moment with an attitude of curiosity, openness (rather than judgment) and have flexibility of awareness (choose what we pay attention to).
Sounds great right? But you may be thinking how can that help athletes perform at their best? Well… athletes can learn the skill of awareness and by practicing mindfulness. It helps us stay focused, avoid distraction and perform at our best. By not dwelling on past mistakes/losses and not worrying about the future negative possibilities, athletes can learn to pay attention to the only moment that matters – the present. Being 100% focused and present in the game/race obviously results in enhanced athletic performance.
All athletes experience some level of anxiety, fear, self doubt or stress in the lead up to major competitions. These emotions engage the fight or flight response which results from the increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the amygdala which in turn releases hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. Prolonged activation of this can result in decreased optimum health and wellbeing – which is obviously not great for athletes about to compete on the world stage.
It’s now understood that mindfulness is one of the best ways to calm this stress response in the brain. Practicing mindfulness techniques helps improve the mind-body connection and allows us to notice our thoughts and emotions without getting attached to them. Frequent practice helps manage anxiety provoking thoughts and emotions that may arise during competition.
What’s more – its been shown in MRI’s that through mindful practice the amygdala “fight or flight” center appears to shrink and the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker! Amazing!
Something else that has been gaining loads of attention lately is “flow” (the new name for being in “the zone”). “Flow is a mindset that typically occurs when there is a balance between the challenges associated with a situation and the athletes belief of their capability to meet those demands” Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990).
Flow is when an athlete is completely absorbed, has lower self-consciousness, loses track of time and experiences greater intrinsic satisfaction. Performance becomes automatic and feels effortless. Flow is really at its core about present moment awareness – which is what mindfulness is right? So rather than trying to control thoughts, feelings research shows it is more beneficial for athletes to develop skills in present-moment awareness and acceptance.
How can we do this? Here are some basic tips…
- Have a visual or tactile reminder during competition that consistently bring you into the moment
- Using your senses (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) to build the mind and body connection in the present.
- You do not need to ‘empty your mind’ or ‘push thoughts away’ or control them in any way. Simply notice or observe your thoughts, without engaging with them
- If your mind starts to analyses or judge your experience, acknowledge this, then gently unhook your attention and bring it back to non-judgmental awareness.
- Your mind may wander once or 100 times – each time acknowledge, unhook and guide it back to the present moment.
- Focusing attention on your breathing quickly reverses the fight or flight response.
- Labelling whatever emotion you are experiencing. This interrupts the amygdala activity and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex
There are many ways to bring mindful practice into your everyday. There are now apps, podcasts, youtube clips, and MP3 downloads to listen to guided mindful meditations. Psychologists can also help work out how best to apply mindfulness to your daily routine. It may be as easy as washing the dishes mindfully, or having a mindful shower. These are all things that athletes can do to help their mental game whilst not physically training. Something I wish I had known about!!
Caroline Anderson is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. As an ex-Olympian, her psychology practice helps both athletes and people in business develop strategies for achieving peak performance through individual therapy or group presentations. If you have any questions or comments please email email@example.com
“Some Reflections on The Inside Game” June 2016 – written for the Victorian Olympic Council – Social Media
So the count-down is on. In just two short months our Aussie athletes will be off to compete at the Rio Olympics. And it is always around this time in the lead up to a Games, when I start thinking and reflecting on my own Olympic journey. This will be the third Olympic cycle since I competed at the Athens Olympics in 2004. And still, all these years later, emotions run high.
Just watching on TV, I know I will be crying for happiness when our athletes win – crying for them knowing how hard their journey has been, knowing the sacrifices they have made along the way and that all that work has finally paid off. I will be feeling their sadness with compassion and empathy when their dreams don’t become reality, when they don’t achieve all they had worked for, and when it feels like everything comes down crashing around them.
During my Olympic journey (and I always use the word journey – because that is exactly what it is, an epic adventure filled with the highest highs, and the lowest lows) I was training to become a psychologist.
However, all these years later I am still surprised that I didn’t focus more on my mental game. There just didn’t seem time, there were other much more important things to focus on like tactical training, strength and conditioning…etc. I thought I had been doing the right kinds of things – visualisation, imagery, relaxation and positive self talk. I had the support of a wonderful psychologist from the VIS in the lead up to the Games.
Yet… looking back now, I wonder if there was more I could have done? I know I put in all I could into my physical preparation, and I will never regret how I performed on the day, but a question will always be there – could I have done more in terms of my mental preparation? Could I have done more to ease the doubts that crept into the back of my mind?
The self criticisms we all have – after all, even elite athletes are human and susceptible to worries and fears of failure. I know now that this is completely normal. But I wonder if at the time I did. Maybe I worried that having fears or doubts indicated that I really wasn’t up to the task. That it meant I didn’t deserve to be there. Well meaning coaches, family and friends reminded me I must be confident and have total belief in myself and so I kept trying to push those negative thoughts away.
Fast forward 12 years and here I am, a psychologist with loads of experience and training, working with a range of different clients, including athletes wishing to work on mental techniques and their wellbeing in order to improve their performance. I see the battle that goes on in the minds of all my clients, be it someone struggling with depression or an athlete trying to get to the top of their sport.
And what I see is that we all have the negative voice inside our heads telling us that we are not good enough. These thoughts create doubt and confusion, and chip away at our self-confidence. Why do we listen to these thoughts so much? Why do we believe them to be true? Dr Russ Harris author of The Happiness Trap calls this the “I’m not good enough story,” a universal internal story that repeats in our head and that we all have to some degree. The difference is not that some people don’t have this, it’s that they are better at paying less attention to this story. There is so much emphasis in society on positive thinking and challenging negative thoughts that the idea that negative thoughts are not dangerous or harmful is a major revelation for clients I work with.
Research suggests that athletes who accept both their positive and negative thoughts/beliefs and maintain focus on the task at hand are more likely to perform at their true potential. We don’t need to get into a battle with our thoughts, trying to force ourselves to only think positive. If we pay less attention to negative thoughts, it frees us to enter a state of observation rather than thinking, focus rather than judgment. There are a number of techniques that psychologists use to help clients get some distance or “defusion” from their “I’m not good enough story”. So remember:
- Thoughts are simple passing states in the mind that do not require action
- Be willing to experience any emotion or thought that may arise in competition
- There is no need to judge experiences/thoughts as positive or negative
- Know and accept that anxiety may exist and including it as part of your pre-match routine is key to success rather than becoming overwhelmed by anxiety
Helping athletes learn about acceptance and mindfulness is a real passion of mine. By practicing mindfulness we become more open to the possibility of entering “flow” state in high pressure situations – something I can’t wait to expand on in my next blog post.
Caroline Anderson is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. As an ex-Olympian, her psychology practice helps both athletes and people in business develop strategies for achieving peak performance through individual therapy or group presentations.
Please do not hesitate to email with any questions or comments – firstname.lastname@example.org
774 ABC Radio Interview 2008
Just found this photo from back in 2008 when I was on the Conversation Hour with Ally Moore on ABC 774 with Kitty Chiller and Jacqui Marshal as guests. We were discussing all things Olympics, athletes and funding in sports.