|Many of us do sports to relax, but for serious athletes, for whom sports is their life, it can be a source of anxiety.
In fact, research shows that athletes struggle with mental pressure and stress more than the average person. In a 2019 study analyzing the “the moderating effects of athletic mental energy on the athletes’ life stress–burnout relationship” the research found that “young athletes encounter many stressors that may endanger their physical and psychological well-being. These stressors include sport-specific stress (e.g., coach–athlete relationship, performance demands, training adaptation, and sports injury) and general life stress.”
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Calming the Mind, Heart, and Butterflies All At Once
No matter the level in athletic competition, mental obstacles can easily affect athletic performance. When the body is overcome with stress, it reacts in various different ways from muscle tension to increased heart rate. And too much stress can cause performance anxiety or hurt the athlete’s overall health.
It’s important for athletes to find different coping mechanisms in order to combat stress, whether it’s a practice or competition.
There are many different ways to relieve stress but one easy way to deal with stress is through the relatively unassuming act of chewing gum. It is both an effective and simple way to put the body at ease.
This is in part due to the body’s vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs through the neck and is the integral component of the parasympathetic nervous sysytem. It controls the body’s mood, heart rate, digestive track, and more. The physical motion of chewing gum stimulates the vagus nerve and thus produces a calming effect throughout the body.
What’s more, a controlled clinical study in 2009 found that "gum chewing had consistently positive effects on mood during an acute laboratory stressor."
Related: 5 Benefits of Chewing Gum for Your Mind + Body
In fact, Eddie Tolan, a two-time gold medalist and member of the 1932 US Olympic track team would chew gum in order to relieve stress during his competition. While he originally began gum chewing to alleviate stress, he soon found that it also helped him maintain pace and increase speed!
A more recent example is Syracuse Basketball, who spend $1000 a season to provide a gum for players because it helps them better focus on the game, reduces tension and minimizes dry mouth. Canadian curler Colleen Jones chewed on the ice to modulate stress and American Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather was known to chew gum in workouts.
When looking for new ways to relieve stress, it’s helpful knowing there is an option as easy as chewing gum. A “low stress” stress reliever.
Related: Have a Mindful Moment With A Cup of Tea
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