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Mental blocks series - Part 3: What do we know about mental blocks?

A mental block is a biological response based on the fight-flight-or-freeze response. Your brain is telling your body not to do the skill and is essentially putting on the brakes. A mental block is when someone can no longer do a skill that they have done many times in the past and it feels like it happened suddenly or "out of nowhere."

Why do mental blocks happen?

It is our brain's job to keep our body safe by continuously scanning the environment and making sure to respond to danger quickly and effectively.

Our brain has to make a decision between:

  • fleeing from the danger,

  • staying to fight the danger,

  • freezing up to stay quiet (essentially blend into the environment)

In the world today we have so many things around us that our brains perceive as threats to our safety. These can be things like

  • "What if my friends don't like me and make fun of me?"

  • "What if I fail this exam and don't pass my GCSEs?"

  • "What if I let my coach down and don't perform up to what she expects from me?"

Because we are being bombarded constantly with numerous social and self-imposed pressures, our brain can regularly find itself in "high alert." So, it doesn't take much more to send us into a bigger response. This is the step that can lead us to a mental block.

The experience of a mental block can look a little like this:

  • When you have had a stressful or few days your brain can easily be in high alert before you get into the gym.

  • Then when you go to do a skill, your brain has already reached its max allowance of ‘danger’ for the day which means it acts out.

  • This usually means freezing on skills in the gym. This is because we know that fleeing and fighting aren't considered acceptable in the gym environment.

Remember: We do see mental blocks come and go depending on whether our brain is on high alert due to other things that are going on. Which is why it is important to stay calm and patient. Take it one day at a time and recognise that your mind is simply trying to protect you.

This content has been developed as part of our #itsmyjourney project with Valleys Gymnastics Academy


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