8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinker

Whether you’re a pro, a weekend warrior or an armchair athlete, these tips from Toronto sports psychologist Dr. Kate Hays will help keep stress at bay.
By Ainsley Doty
8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinker

Photo, Michael Miller.

NHL stress-busting tips

Take a deep breath

Many hockey players, including team captains Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks) have added yoga to their fitness regimens. But they get more out of it than just stretching. Yoga teaches deep diaphragmatic breathing which, as Dr. Hays points out, helps to counter stress. This breath technique also increases lung capacity by engaging underutilized blood vessels in the lower lungs.

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerRyan Getzlaf; Photo, Christopher Szagola/Keystone Press.

Sweat it out

P.K. Subban makes this tip look easy. The defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens took to Instagram this summer to show off his pre-season workouts. They were pretty darn impressive. According to Dr. Hays, exercise releases endorphins and encourages creative problem solving, and for Subban, it’s certainly working. He started the season strong, with three goals and five assists in the first eight games.

P.K. Subban doing chin-upsScreenshot from @subbanator Instagram.


Your mom and your money don't mix

For players like 23-year-old Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders, a rookie debut means money in the bank ($23-million over seven years, to be exact). But emotions can cloud our judgment when it comes to personal finance. Dr. Hays warns that while it may be tempting to go to family for advice, it’s best to leave money management to the professionals.

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerPhoto, Canada Hky.

You are not your job

“If I’m great because I just performed well, that means I’m a terrible person when I don’t.” According to Dr. Hays this is a typical pro athlete attitude. But she insists your job is what you do, not who you are, and a little separation goes a long way. Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs has done a great job building a wall around his private life (much to the frustration of the media who would love a peak inside).

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerPhoto, Duncan Williams/Keystone Press.

Get out of your head

Instead of constantly thinking about stress, Dr. Hays suggests making a list, journaling, or talking it out with someone you trust. Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators has been in therapy for nearly a decade and says it has helped him come to terms with his tumultuous childhood. He is proof that airing your issues can help put everything in perspective.

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerPhoto, Mike Wulf/Keystone Press.


Stay in the moment

After giving up a goal, you won’t find Montreal net-minder Carey Price sulking or beating himself up. Though he admits that, “It’s easy to let your emotions get carried away,” Price is all about being mindful and taking each game one play at a time. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, Dr. Hays says to focus on the present. Ask yourself what you need to accomplish right now. Set the rest aside and schedule time to unpack it later.

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerPhoto, Michael Miller.

Let yourself feel bad

Last season, NY Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist watched the Stanley Cup go to the LA Kings after a double-overtime game in the Finals. He knew he’d eventually have to come to terms with the loss, but after the game Lundqvist admitted, “It’s going to be a couple of weeks now where it’s going to hurt.” Dr. Hays says that it’s important to give yourself time to grieve and lick your wounds. But it’s equally important to know when to move on.

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerLos Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the ice after the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. Photo, Louis Lopez/Keystone Press.


Following their 2014 Stanley Cup win, the Kings had plenty of time to bask in their awesomeness. Back home in L.A., the Kings celebrated the victory in style with a massive downtown parade. Dr. Hays say reveling in victory is really important, just don’t forget to make note of what worked so you can repeat the performance next time.

8 stress-busting tips from an NHL headshrinkerScreenshot, CBC/Sportsnet broadcast of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals.

Dr. Kate Hays, a Toronto sports psychologist, has spent the past 25 years helping some of Canada’s most elite athletes cope with stress. These anxiety-reducing tips work well both on and off the ice.


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