TODAY

TODAY   |  January 27, 2014

Train your brain during stressful times

Former Olympic swimmer Sara Isakovic and psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor walk viewers through how athletes manage to compete at such high levels without succumbing to pressure, and how you can use their techniques.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the athletes heading to sochi are under tremendous pressure, of course. a tenth of a second could mean a difference between a trip to the medal stand and going home empty handed.

>> training their brains to overcome stressful situations. how can you do that in your own life?

>> we ask that question recently of outside magazine . here with some of the answers is a former olympic swimmer turned research assistant in psychiatry at uc san diego . and psychiatrist janet taylor. you might end up working together.

>> yeah.

>> so you actually experienced this in beijing. you were an olympic swimmer . and things didn't go well. what happened?

>> so what happened was going into that last turn in my final race of 200 freestyle, my feet barely touched the wall. so i lost all that momentum and speed carrying into the last lap, which is a swimmer's biggest fear, you don't want that to happen in an olympic race.

>> you could have collapsed, but you end up taking silver.

>> true. i kept going and i didn't let it get to me. i think as an athlete, i've had that privilege of being exposed to challenges, and, you know, really getting after it no matter what. so all of that helped me deal with that situation. and i carried on.

>> you talked there a lot about brain training techniques. you say marines and adventurers anticipate and react to stress better than the rest of us. what is it about them that make them better at it?

>> true. research has shown that very resilient people, such as navy s.e. s.e.a.ls and marines and athletes work well under stress. their brain activation is much lower, specifically in those areas that regulate emotions and that body awareness. meaning that they're staying calm under the stresses. whereas low-resilient people, their brain activity is super high and, you know, that hyper activity can lead to panic.

>> obviously we can all benefit if we all do this. are we all capable of brain training ?

>> absolutely. if you think about it, our brains are the same, it's just how we've learned to train them. we think we can build our bodies, we can also build our brains. we know life is stressful. but if you do the technique where you focus on the sensation. if you notice you're anxious, which whatever sensation you have in your stomach and your hands, you can practice in training yourself to say, okay, i got this, or i'm going to panic. and what olympic athletes do, is they don't panic, they know i'm ready and stay focused on the prize. and people at home can do this.

>> how do you prepare yourself for the unexpected, basically?

>> well, you anticipate but don't overreact. let's say you're a mom and worried about your kid falling, doing things like that, you prepare yourself. strap them in their car seat. if they're in a highchair, you have your phone charged to call 911, train yourself in cpr. so if the unexpected happens, you can go into automatic mode instead of waiting and panicking.

>> what would you say to someone about to make a presentation at work. they've got anxiety. what can the everyday person do right now?

>> i think that positive mindset and self-belief you've got it really helps. as an athlete going into every practice, every meet i'm swimming, i have to know i've put in the effort, i'm prepared, i got it. and that positive self-talk, i can do this.

>> and you embrace the anxiety. sometimes what feels like nervousness and anxiousness is, in fact, excitement. if you know you're ready for the presentation, take some deep breaths, be mindful about it and go out and do it. and it takes practice.

>> i love the notion of hyping yourself up. we see athletes, boxers when they enter the race, a song, they have their earphones on. it is psyching yourself out in a sense.

>> it is. it's using your brain the way it should be. in fact, not running inning away from fear.

>> our new motto, i got this. thank you so much. thank you, both.