Most mountain bikers know that they get stronger through cycles of physical stress and recovery. A 100 mile ride wears you down, good nutrition and good sleep after that ride helps you recover and grow stronger. What I never realized (until I read “The New Toughness Training For Sports” years ago) is that mental and emotional stresses can be just as debilitating as physical stress. This means a lot of your life away from the bike and/or other forms of exercise can wear you out too. To mountain bike at your best you need to manage and make sure you recover from all stresses.
Mental stress is just as it sounds, anything that mentally taxes you. This can be a challenging problem at work or home, financial worry, learning, etc., basically anything that makes you concentrate intensely or think hard. Guess what is super mentally stressful, mountain biking! The harder the trail is skill wise (to you) the more intensely you have to concentrate and this can be really taxing. At places with high consequences for failure (like Bootleg Canyon) I find I can ride a max of three days in a row before I am worn out and my riding starts to suffer. After three days there I need some mental recovery before I can ride at my best again. I do this by taking a day off or riding easier trails which take less focus.
How do you recover from mental stress? Relax! Shut your brain off! The absolute best way is to meditate (which will help in many other ways both on the bike and in life) but meditating is hard wish turns many people off. If you are interested in meditating and it positive effects start doing it! There are probably many teachers in your area and tons of information on the ole inter webs. If meditating isn’t your cup of tea then simply try shutting your brain down, deep breathing exercises, taking a nap, watching a simple movie (not an intense French film with subtitles), have a beer or glass of wine or two (much more than two and you may be harming yourself in other ways), yin yoga, anything that slows you down and shuts your brain off.
In our busy, over stimulated lives (smart phones, traffic, long work hours, etc) it is easy to become overloaded mentally and all aspects of your life will suffer. The “work hard, play harder” philosophy almost guarantees mental stress. SCHEDULE time to alleviate your mental stress and you will see a big difference in your performance on trail (and life in general) riding.