Lessons in lockdown – Pressure

by | Jul 30, 2020 | Exercise, Health, Physiotherapy

Over the last few months it has become evident to me that many of us are starting to struggle with the effects of the current pandemic on our lifestyle and wellbeing. About now most of us would be taking a break. A change of scene can be good for the soul and allow us to escape our regular routine, decompress and recharge for the next phase of the year. That’s not happening for most this year and even if you do get a chance to head away it’s not going to be the same.

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As mentioned in the last newsletter the type of injuries presenting in the clinic have changed as a result of lockdown with many people increasing their home based exercise and running resulting in lower limb issues taking the top spot away from low back pain for the time being.

I’ve also noticed that many are becoming fixated with their exercise or obsessing about their performance and not necessarily for the better. At times of stress, uncertainty or change we like a degree of control and measuring our exercise output can make us feel we have some control over something but is it just putting more pressure on you than you need right now?

It’s very easy for us to put pressure on ourselves by measuring everything and always striving to get better or keep up with our last performance. This is well and good and can of course be a way of progressing and succeeding, however we have to be careful not to take this approach in everything we do in our lives. Let me explain with a story about a champion surfer.

New Zealand born Dave “Rasta” Rastovich was a world class surfer. U-16 world Champion and on the professional tour with the brightest of futures ahead of him. A sponsors dream, good looks, admiration of his colleagues and an ability to ride any wave anywhere. Then, seemingly out of nowhere he quite the sport. Retired at 20 when typically he’d have at least a good decade ahead of him. What on earth lead him to do this?

To people inside and outside of the sport this was madness. An amazing lifestyle, travelling the world, exotic locations, pristine beaches, sun, sea, sand. You’re at the top of your game, all the endorsements, respect of your industry and colleagues, all the trappings of success that the sport can give you. What’s not to love? And that’s the point. He had fallen out of love with it.

As a kid growing up along the sunshine coast of Australia, Rasta wholeheartedly and passionately fell in love with surfing. He became one with the Ocean. It’s where he felt alive, where he felt at peace and where he felt he needed to be. He never saw surfing as anything other than a part of himself. As fundamental and as vital as breathing. When that’s how life is, it’s only natural you’d end up making you’re living from it too. After all if you do something you love you’ll never work a day in your whole life. Or so it seemed.

Driving home from an event where he finished runner up, that all changed. A decent cheque for his troubles. More than enough to justify the day and a bad day on the waves is better than a good day in the office. You were beaten today. It happens. No one wins all the time, right? And that’s what he couldn’t get his head around. He was out on the waves that day having an amazing time. Absolutely in the moment, in the zone, where he was always meant to be. He was having the time of his life. “This is bliss, this is what it’s all about. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” A smile on his face to connect the tides. Wow. Just wow. And then the scores.

Someone else decided that he wasn’t having as good a time as he thought he was. Someone else decided that today he wasn’t good enough. Someone else did better than him. Someone else enjoyed themselves more than he did according to the judges. And that just didn’t make sense to him. Why am I letting my enjoyment of surfing be measured by someone else. By something else. I loved what I did today. I felt amazing and all of that was taken away in a heartbeat by a score that someone else placed on my experience.

As a consequence he was going to feel miserable for the rest of the day. He had failed. He was going to get no pleasure from anything else for at least that day, maybe more. Maybe until the next competition and between times he was going to have to train, pack, travel, interviews, fans, eat, sleep, breath, dream, regret. His sense of self had now been threatened. His wellbeing was being attacked and his body biochemistry was going to respond accordingly. Cortisol, macrophages, substance P. All on the opinion of someone else. All on a score, a measure given by someone else’s definition of success. Someone sitting at a table with a pencil, not even getting wet. And that’s why he quit the tour.

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Now some might argue that he gave up. He should toughen up. Learn to take it on the chin and move on. Let it inspire him to become better. The greatest. Maybe, but that decision isn’t for you or me to make. That’s down to him. He still surfs. Loves it as much as ever in fact. Maybe he’s even better than ever, but no one needs to know. No one will know. No one’s keeping score and he hasn’t had a bad day on the waves since. That’s a pretty good result in my book.

We need to consider the same. Is this something I need to measure? Is this something that a score will help improve me or just threaten me? Will the Fitbit counting my steps and my sleep become an obsession and I’m waking up to check if I’m sleeping? Will I feel under pressure to get the steps in and am I behind schedule and anxious that I won’t hit my target today. Will I be ahead of schedule and think today I’ll go for a personal best and then the bar is reset tomorrow and I have to get at least that many steps again and more. Will my run be all about pace and splits and elevation and I’ve busted a gut to get around today but I’m nowhere near my time 3 months ago. I’m a full 7 seconds slower than I was then. What a failure!

Who are we measuring against anyway? Is 10,000 steps a day the only number of steps we should be doing and is that right or wrong for you? Is a 20 minute 5k the only acceptable number for someone your age or are you trying to be someone half your age and just can’t accept that it’s comparing apples and oranges.

If you’re an athlete and working towards a particular goal. Well and good. If it helps you get to where you need to be and it’s re-balancing your house of health. Absolutely, go for it. If it’s taking more away from you than it’s giving back to you. Ditch the clock. Ditch the score. Ditch the scales. Have your run. Enjoy your run. Get it done and measure how you feel afterwards not how you’ve scored.

In our house of health we need to decide which room this activity best fits into. If you are a professional athlete then exercise will be in the mental/cognitive space. You well be analysing every minute detail of your performance down to the colour of the laces on your shoes and how that impacts on your times. But if exercise is part of your overall wellness do you need to measure everything about it. Maybe measure how often you run 5km per week rather than how quickly or slowly you ran each one. That run should be mainly in the physical room and the spiritual space and maybe the emotional if you’re doing it with a friend/group but it only needs a glance at the mental space. Measure something else, measure something more important.


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