Take two deep breaths and call us in the morning? Not quite that simple—but we’ve unearthed a few smart ideas on how to stamp out stress.
Between the constant pressures of coaching, competing and running a business, it’s no secret that being a cheer professional can be a highly stressful endeavor. “Everybody who has ever owned a gym understands that it’s pretty much 24/7,” says Troy Hedgren, co-owner of Laguna Hills, CA-based Pacific Coast Magic. “Especially with a gym our size, with four locations and more than 500 athletes, the days for us are very long.”
Whether you thrive in go-go-go mode or are feeling the burn of burnout, whether your gym is miniscule or massive, it’s imperative to cope properly and decompress—even if you have to “schedule” time to do it. To find out how to turn a breaking point into a turning point, we turned to several busy cheer professionals and expert Zohar Adner for their hard-earned advice on achieving balance.
As a coach and gym owner, your days start early and often don’t end until midnight—and many feel that there is still not enough time in the day. Undoubtedly, creating work-life balance can be tough with such an all-consuming lifestyle, but living without it is ultimately unsustainable.
“Coaches and gym owners need to schedule breaks and time to breathe,” says Zohar Adner, author of The Gift of Stress. “You can’t just run from one activity to the next to the next. You would never treat an athlete like that; you wouldn’t even do that to your car. If it’s not something you would ask of anyone else, it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re asking of yourself.”
Hedgren finds his rare Zen by taking time to connect with nature and the outdoors in the midst of his jam-packed day. He often spends mornings returning emails and making calls, then heads to the beach for an hour or two before heading to the gym. “You have to have that one little release,” he confides.
If slowing down doesn’t seem like an option, consider the benefits. Research has shown that 90 minutes “is the optimal length of time for a person to concentrate on something—more than that, and you start to get decreased effectiveness,” Adner cautions. “Taking a break lets your brain settle down and gives your body a chance to rest.”
Also, “breaks” don’t have to mean a major time commitment—Adner recommends starting with five minutes a day and working your way up to an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening and (ideally) an hour mid-day. “We used to take a lunch hour,” says Adner. “People were happier and healthier.”
Build a support system.
Creating a supportive community is key to reducing stress, even if you feel like no one understands your unique stressors. “By isolating yourself, you’re only putting more pressure on yourself,” says Adner. Afraid to ask for help? Think of how great it feels when you’re able to help out a friend. “[Give] other people the opportunity to be that person for you,” adds Adner.
The approach works for Hedgren and co-owner Kellie Elliott, who say they lean on each other, their spouses and network of coaches and athletes quite often. “Everybody takes a part in not only working for me, but helping me out as a parent,” says Elliott. “I don’t think I could do what I do if I didn’t have that support system—it’s definitely teamwork. You just have to make sure to get good people that you trust in those positions to make you successful.”
According to Adner, 90 percent of stress is recurring. “You can pretty much predict the things that are going to come up,” he says. At USA Wildcats in Naugatuck, CT, they deal with all of the typical stressors—athletes getting injured, people running late to competition and other incidents that can cause “coaches [to run] around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to come up with a backup plan,” says coach Amanda Daniels.
Preparing in advance—much like you would for a competition—ensures that you won’t get taken by surprise. “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel each time,” Adner advises. “Learn from your past experiences.” Having a disaster checklist can keep everyone calm during a crisis, and having set practices in place will ward off confusion and chaos.
“The less thinking you have to do in those moments, the better off you will be,” says Adner. “Go to the plan, as opposed to having to figure it out on the spot.”