Stress management in the spotlight in latest School Project webinar

The Secretary of the European Medical Commission (EMC), Dr Zoran Nikolovski, who currently works at the University of Split, delivered a very engaging session on Thursday afternoon to complete the second series of webinars organised and run by the CEV Technical and Development Department. With 15 years of Volleyball coaching and research in the field of sports psychology alongside his medical expertise, Dr Nikolovski had a wealth of information to share on how to manage stress with as many as 78 attendees. 

He has been involved in some research related to stress management and breathing exercises / their effect on our physiology. In the future, this project will continue under the support and endorsement of CEV to measure and witness the effects on referees. The experiment and exercises can apply to the lives of coaches and practically anyone who encounters stress.

Dr Nikolovski started his lecture with the definition of stress and mentioning the General Adaptation Syndrome, which explains stress response. Do we always know where stress comes from, or what it is exactly? Is stress manageable? Can we avoid it? He said that we can find ways to limit it, change the situation, adapt, accept what we cannot change, and even try to have fun. There are many popular methods and practices to help reduce stress including yoga, meditation, nature, self-hypnosis, etc.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) reflects the way we control our emotions. It speeds up on inhalation and slows down when we exhale. Moreover, HRV decreases when we breathe fast and have negative thoughts/emotions. This means that training our breathing can help the heart’s response to stress, knowing that HRV in the end affects stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin in our bodies.

Dr Nikolovski continued explaining that oscillations (movement back and forth in a regular rhythm) naturally occur in our body, and the goal is to find the right balance so that we can perform better both mentally and physically.

Slow diaphragmatic breathing affects the autonomic nervous system, with Nikolovski showing photos of a sensor demonstration, on how this breathing is measured on a person. Moreover, he shared a video of what the breathing exercise looks like on a monitor and the changes of paces. The exercise usually lasts for 20 seconds, and the software gives a feedback showing your progress towards resonant breathing. The collection of samples shows a continuous drop in hormone levels, thus indicating that this exercise has effects from the beginning! This means that there are measurable ways to lower stress levels.

Dr Nikolovski shared a video demo of the Breath Pacer app, available on smartphones, and explained how anyone can use it in their daily life. Users can adjust the time of inhale/time of exhale/times of holding the breath/total time of exercise, thus achieving lower levels of stress.

Next, he showed the photo of a handball coach’s heart-rate timeline, over the course of a match day, from driving to the sports hall to warmups to continue with match time and after the match. There was a clear spike in HRV during the match, and lowered levels of stress afterwards. The collection of the very same info a second time during a different match showed much lower stress levels after the coach did 20 minutes of resonant breathing exercises before the game.

The session finished with an interactive Q&A session with a focus on stressors and the way to deal with these, in daily life as much as in a Volleyball environment.

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