Aug 03, 2023

Pressure Proof with Daniel Stewart: The Anxiety Cycle is Not a Spinning Class!

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

This month we’re going to talk about a subject you’re likely familiar with and a few others that might just surprise you a bit. We’re going to talk about the growth mindset: the belief that talent can grow with time and experience; that skills are just starting-points that can be enhanced with the right amount of effort and practice. Riders with a growth-mindset know their potential isn’t fixed, thrive on challenges, and love to stretch outside their comfort zone. But you probably already knew that…

What you might not know is that not long ago it was thought the human brain finished growing early in life, but modern imaging technology has proven that our brains are actually quite capable of growing well into adulthood! Regardless of whether it’s learning to ride a horse or speak a new language, your brain is capable of growing just like you are. This is called neuroplasticity and has provided scientific proof that the growth-mindset is real.

Your brain has billions of neurons, each with thousands of connections to other neurons. They meet at synapses and communicate via neurotransmitters which ultimately create your skills and behaviors. Every time you have a new experience your brain creates new connections between them, and when you have that same experience again, your brain strengthens those connections. In time, these connections become wired together, much like a forest path that gets more defined over time. Eventually these wired-connection allow skills and behaviors to become automatic (muscle memory) because when one fires, so does the other. In other words, wired together and fired together.

So, what does neuroplasticity have to do with the growth mindset? Well, overcoming emotional challenges like doubt, defeats, or disappointments is a skill, and like any skill, you can improve it by simply practicing and learning to wire the correct neurons together…but in order for that to happen, you much first overcome something called the anxiety cycle.

The anxiety cycle works like this: When you avoid something scary your brain releases a surge of relief that makes you feel better, which increases the likelihood of your brain telling you to avoid other scary things in the future. Every time you avoid something scary and survive, your brain links together more neurons that strengthen that habit, even if the scary thing isn’t dangerous (like backing up a trailer). Before long, the anxiety-cycle creates neural connections that make you avoid situations that might seem scary. Every time you avoid one and survive, your brain says, “Yay, let’s always do that!” Eventually it becomes a habit because your brain wires scary and avoidance together.

The trick to overcoming the anxiety cycle is to simply do those things that feel a bit scary (just back-up the trailer already!). If you do them and don’t die (spoiler alert: you won’t) your brain says, “What a relief,” and will begin breaking the neural connections between scary and avoidance and begin building new connections between scary and safe. In the end, neuroplasticity is what helps you to break the anxiety cycle, and breaking the anxiety cycle is what helps you develop the growth mindset!

I hope you enjoyed this month’s Pressure Proof tip and are looking forward to more in the future. If you enjoy mental coaching please let me know. I’m offering a self-paced equestrian sport psychology online course starting in October and think you’d love it! Email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you more info!

Oct 01, 2023 Convention

Two Months Until the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention: Registration is Open!

Registration for the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention is now open! Join the USEA in St. Louis, Missouri, this Dec. 7-10 for a weekend of mingling with fellow enthusiastic eventers to partake in discussions about the future of the sport. This year’s event will include a keynote address by Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned scientist and author, a celebration of champions at the Annual Awards Dinner, and more! The city of St. Louis also has so many opportunities to sight-see and explore.

Sep 30, 2023 Competitions

The Future for U.S. Eventing is Promising Following 2023 USEF/USEA Developing Horse Eventing National Championships

The second and final day of competition at the 2023 USEF/USEA Developing Horse Eventing National Championships was all about precision as the 6-year-old CCI2*-S Championship competitors tackled both jumping phases and the 7-year-old CCI3*-S Championship pairs conquered Mogie Bearden-Muller’s cross-country track at Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina.

Sep 30, 2023 Sponsor

The United States Eventing Association (USEA) Shows Support for Horse Week 2023

Equine Network is thrilled to have the support of the United States Eventing Association (USEA) for the third annual Horse Week event brought to you by Boehringer Ingelheim.

Sep 29, 2023 Competitions

Young Horses Stand Out from the Crowd at 2023 USEF/USEA Developing Horse Eventing National Championships

It was a busy day at Stable View Oktoberfest in Aiken, South Carolina as all FEI divisions and a few national divisions kicked off their competition weekend, including the 2023 USEF/USEA Developing Horse Eventing National Championships. Both the 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds got their chance to shine down the centerline at the start of the day, with the 7-year-olds also giving their best effort across Michael Vallaincourt’s show jumping track later this afternoon.

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