Hey there, Upswing fam! Today we’re mixing things up with a guest article by “Coach” Bahman Zarghami that will help you with your mental game.
Even if you don’t want to give up your daily coffee, this short article is worth a read so you can better understand stress and anxiety as they relate to poker.
Poker players all over the world start their day with a cup of Joe.
Most people think it is harmless, some even think it is healthy. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth.
Whether you are drinking coffee, energy drinks or cola; caffeine may be costing you money.
Sound the alarm!
As a poker player you are already very familiar with stress, but in order to truly understand your mind and body, you need to understand the mechanics of stress.
Stress is a physical, mental or emotional reaction of your body to anything in your life that needs your direct attention.
This can happen when you take a bad beat, lose connection during a final table, or get check-raised all-in on the river when you have the second nuts against the tightest player you have ever seen.
Let’s use a metaphor to explain exactly what stress does to your body.
(We’ll be back to coffee in a moment.)
It is late at night, you are awake upstairs and grinding some tables.
All of a sudden you hear a loud thump followed by some voices downstairs. You were not expecting any guests, so you slowly walk downstairs and see a couple of masked men in black clothes. People are breaking in your house!
People breaking in your house is a stress trigger, and instantly the alarm goes off inside your body. The hypothalamus, a region of your brain, sends the signal to your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands instantly produce two types of hormones:
- Cortisol. A stress hormone that your body produces to wake up during the morning and it also regulates your metabolism and helps to reduce inflammation.
- Adrenaline. A hormone that your brain only releases in a fight-or-flight situation, and it hits like a truck.
In a situation like this you go through three phases, and this first one is called the alarm phase.
During the alarm phase, you become a temporary superhuman of sorts. Your body will help you to resist hunger, repair the body, feel less pain and many more perks that come in handy when facing a fight-or-flight situation. But all things have their price.
When stress leaves, anxiety lingers.
The second phase is the resistance phase, and it’s called that for a reason. Your body is building up the resistance until you are completely exhausted or the stress trigger is removed.
Now we reach phase three, which is called the exhaustion phase. It is time to pay back the loan you borrowed from your body for the temporary superhuman skills.
You are tired, maybe not physically, but mentally. You may:
- Become irritated.
- Avoid responsibilities and social interactions.
- Become self-destructive.
- Start to make bad decisions.
Potential physical effects are:
- Weight gain
- Sleeping problems
- Heart disease
- Issues with memory and concentration.
Some of these probably sound familiar to you.
To add to this already long list of problems, introducing…
This term is being used more and more often nowadays, but it is not always clear what it exactly is.
Anxiety is what lingers when stress is no more. Stress is psychological pain from a clear trigger. Anxiety has no clear source, but you can definitely feel it and it affects everything you do. It can create significant discomfort and even lead to long-term anxiousness or panic attacks.
What does coffee have to do with all of this?
There is a diagnosis called substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder.
Consider some of the effects of caffeine:
- Raises blood pressure
- Discomfort in stomach, digestion problems
- Rapid heart rate
- Feeling jittery
If you place these effects next to a panic or anxiety attack, you will see absolutely no difference in symptoms.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not stating that coffee always causes anxiety or panic disorder.
I am stating that high performing professionals in high stress environments would be wise to avoid substances that add more stress and anxiety to their system.
You should try to look for the reasons why you think you need coffee to perform on a high level, because in reality a healthy human with a balanced diet and proper exercise has plenty of natural energy to perform at a high level.
Fair points, Coach, but I drink it because I like it.
Is it really worth everything that’s happening to your mind and body?
I believe what you’re saying, but I’ve never experienced any of it personally — I only drink one cup a day.
I have spoken to many clients and even the people who drank just one cup a day or less experienced effects of withdrawal because of the caffeine addiction. Do not forget it is a mind altering substance and one of the strongest psycho active drugs. It is not a joke.
Sure, but I think I can handle a few cups of coffee.
That is pretty remarkable. Allow me to offer you a challenge.
I hereby challenge every coffee drinker reading this article to quit caffeine for at least one week — or 30 days if you are willing to truly challenge yourself — and experience the difference in how you feel.
You can reach out to me on Twitter @coachbahman. I would love to hear your experiences.
One last thing before I say goodbye…
During these crazy times, I am offering free mindset coaching sessions to poker players. You can sign up for a 30 minute evaluation of your current structure and we will work on a roadmap towards a happier, healthier and more productive lifestyle. You can sign up at www.coachbahman.com or send me a message on Twitter.
What to read next: How to Avoid the Unhealthy Mindset Trap That Tortures Poker Players