Psychological Recovery

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), Sleep, and Recovery in Elite Performers

Lana McCloughan (The University of Queensland), Stephanie Hanrahan (The University of Queensland), Ruth Anderson (Mind HQ), Shona Halson (Australian Institute of Sport, Recovery)


Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is widely used with elite performers as a recovery and sleep aide. However there is currently no empirical evidence to support PMR use with this unique population. The effect of trait anxiety has been implicated in sleep onset problems in general populations, but not in a performance sample. Therefore the focus of this study was to evaluate the effects of a PMR intervention on sleep onset latency (SOL) with performers with above mean trait anxiety. The sleep of 12 elite female dancers and four elite female athletes (Mage = 21 years, age range: 18-27 years) was monitored using wristwatch actigraphy over a 14 day period with PMR intervention in Week 2. Trait anxiety was differentiated into social evaluation, physical danger, and ambiguous dimensions using the Endler Multidimensional Anxiety Scale-Trait (EMAS-T) scales. Three related samples Wilcoxon Signed Rank Tests were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of PMR in reducing SOL. Participants with high trait social evaluation anxiety showed a statistically significant decrease in SOL from Week 1 to Week 2 (Z = -2.02, p = 0.04), with a large effect size (r = .90). The results supported the need for a larger control trial of PMR as a recovery strategy for elite performers.

Peak Performance

Investigating the Optimal Psychological State for Peak Performance in Australian Elite Athletes

Ruth Anderson, Stephanie J. Hanrahan, and Clifford J. Mallett

The University of Queensland

Published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology


The aim of this study was to investigate the optimal psychological state for peak performance in Australian elite athletes. World championship and Olympic athletes (n = 17) and coaches (n = 6) from rowing, swimming, and diving were interviewed about the psychological states that contribute to peak performance. Results indicated that peak performance is characterized by the automatic execution of performance. A proposed model for the optimal psychological state identifies self-regulation, control, and trust as processes that assist athletes to transition from experiencing a diversity of psychological factors during competition to the automatic psychological state of peak performance. 


Predicting Homesickness in Residential Athletes 

Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 2015, 9, 138-155

Brendan J. Smith and Stephanie J. Hanrahan, The University of Queensland

Ruth Anderson and  Lyndel Abbott, MiND HQ

Leaving home or transitioning to another environment is a part of every individual’s personal growth and is often considered to be a significant developmental milestone. The distress that individuals experience with this transition has been identified as homesickness. Elite sporting institutions, such as the Australian Insti- tute of Sport (AIS), have recognized that problems associated with homesickness appear to be a predominant cause of poor well-being and dropout among athletes living in a national sports institute. This study aimed to investigate if individual personality traits and coping styles could predict levels of homesickness in these athletes. Neuroticism, self-esteem, and mental escape were significant predictors of homesickness. These results suggest that athletes who are vulnerable to home- sickness can be identified before the commencement of their sporting scholarships so they can be treated accordingly.

Find the paper here



Investigating the Experience of Psychological Automaticity During Peak Performance in Australian Elite Athletes

Ruth Anderson, Stephanie J. Hanrahan, and Clifford J. Mallett

The University of Queensland

The aim of this study was to explore the nature of automaticity in competition and investigate the psychological processes that facilitate automaticity during peak performance. Elite athletes (n = 17) and coaches (n = 6) from rowing, swimming, and diving engaged in retrospective and semi structured interviews about automaticity in competition. An interpretational qualitative data analysis indicated that elite athletes experience an automatic state during peak performances, and automaticity was found to have a positive influence on performance results. A model was developed that identified self-regulation, control, trust, and adaptability as psychological processes that facilitate the transition for athletes from experiencing a diversity of psychological states prior to performance to the automatic state required for peak performance. The study highlighted the opportunity for further research to explore ways the automatic state could be measured in competition and define the critical psychological strategies required for athletes to achieve automaticity consistently in competition.

Measuring Automaticity

Measuring Psychological Automaticity: The Development of a Questionnaire to Assess the Optimal Psychological State for Peak Performance

Ruth Anderson, Stephanie J. Hanrahan

The optimal psychological state required for peak performances has been identified as an automatic state (Park et al., 2015); however, no questionaries currently exist to measure automaticity. The purpose of this study was to develop a measure of psychological automaticity for use with athletes in competition. Athletes (N = 172) completed the original 50-item psychological automaticity scale at a competition performance, along with measures of state anxiety, competition automaticity, and self-efficacy. One hundred and eleven participants completed the 50-item psychological automaticity scale at a second competition performance. Exploratory factor analysis reduced the scale to 30 items, comprising five subscales. The psychometric properties of the Psychological Automaticity Questionnaire (PAQ) were demonstrated with strong validity and internal reliability, however, test-retest reliability was not substantiated. The final version of the PAQ is a 30-item scale that measures automaticity in competition and contains the subscales of automatic execution, self regulation, control, trust, and self awareness. Further research is recommended to confirm the psychometric properties of the PAQ by the use of confirmatory factor analysis on an independent sample and investigate the most effective strategies that will facilitate the automatic state required for peak performance.

Psychological Perspectives on Pain

The Show Must Go On:

Psychological Perspectives on Dancing With Pain

Ruth Anderson BSocSc, MPsych


Professional dancers learn to cope with and tolerate pain as a routine part of the requirements of training and performance. While this assists dancers to push through arduous training regimes, and master difficult technique, as they take their bodies beyond normal limits to pursue performance excellence, it exposes dancers to the risk of injury. The cultural expectation to dance through and ignore pain enhances the ability to persist under adversity and enhance performance standards, yet it leaves dancers vulnerable to being unable to recognize when the pain is acting as a warning sign of potential injury. A contradiction exists for dancers in a culture that requires a high pain tolerance to reach performance standards, yet need to be injury free to perform at their best. While much can be learned from dancers ability to tolerate and perform with pain, it is important that dancers learn how to recognize the type of pain experienced to assist in determining what is considered to be a routine aspect of performance and what is a signal of impending physical harm.


Journal of Pain Management ISSN: 1939-5914 Volume 3, Number 4-Special Issue pp. 377-381

Pain Coping Styles

Dancing in Pain

Pain Appraisal and Coping in Dancers

Ruth Anderson, B.Soc.Sc, M.Psych., and Stephanie J. Hanrahan, M.A., M.Sc, Ph.D.


This study investigated the relationships between the type of pain experienced (performance pain and injury pain), the cognitive appraisal of pain and pain coping styles in dancers. Fifty-one professional ballet and contemporary dancers (17 males and 34 females}, with the mean age of 25.9 years, completed a general pain questionnaire, the Pain Appraisal Inventory, the Survey of Pain Attitudes Control Subscale, and the Sports Inventory for Pain. Multivariate analyses of variance indicated that both the cognitive appraisal of the pain and pain coping styles did not differ according to the type of pain experienced or the pain severity. However, it was found that dancers with performance pain of either low or high severity were more likely to dance in pain than dancers experiencing injury pain. Multiple regression analyses indicated that the appraisal of pain as threatening was predictive of the use of avoidance and catastrophizing pain coping styles. Overall, results indicated that dancers may not differentiate between performance pain and injury pain, or modify their appraisal and coping strategies according to the characteristics of the pain experienced. The study highlighted an opportunity for increased education for dancers in recognizing the difference between pain considered co be a routine aspect of training and pain which is a signal of serious injury.

 Journal of Dance Medicine &  Science • Volume 12, Number 1, 2008