Stress brings tension, anxiety and worry. But breathe in deeply and often these negative feelings are relieved. Now take a look in a dictionary. You'll find that "to breathe in" once meant "to inspire."
This raises a question: Might stress and inspiration be more closely related than we imagined?
There's no denying that the best athletes regularly use pressure as a source of inspiration. They understand it's a part of the game: The more you repress and resist pressure, the more stressful it becomes; the more you acknowledge and embrace pressure, the more inspiring you can be.
The 2011 Women's World Cup offered the world a vivid example of this. During the grueling competition, 36-year-old captain Christie Rampone, along with her teammates on the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, illustrated how professionals can effectively use pressure to break through obstacles instead of letting it stop them.
The Art of Recovery
"Pressure is good. Butterflies are good. It means you care," Rampone said. "But it's about channeling it in the right way and not letting your emotions get the best of you."
Knowing how to personally handle situations comes with experience, she added. For her, a big part of it was learning how to recover to perform at the highest level with the best cleats in the world.
Though recovery is a remedy for relieving pressure, it is an active process. Bruce Snell of Northwest Sports Physical Therapy in Washington state was Team USA's athletic trainer during the 2011 World Cup.
"It's a full-day operation when we're training," he said. "We make sure hydration and electrolyte levels are taken care of. In this World Cup, we introduced quick-flushing massages right after an ice bath to help their legs feel better. You recover from one day's work and get ready for the next day's work."
Their work is a 90-minute game that exposes the human body to some of the most comprehensive physical demands around -- from endurance to quickness to strength and power.
"It encompasses the whole crux of athletic prowess," Snell explained. "What these athletes put their bodies through over the course of time is incredible. They don't really get an offseason. It's a 12-month ordeal, so you always have to stay fit."
Rampone is arguably the fittest person on the team, and there is no doubt she is the oldest player. As a center back defender, she uses fast-twitch movements when sprinting and cutting, and her strong upper body to battle against forwards from opposing teams. She handles the physical stress with one to two ice baths a day, recovery drinks to replenish vitamins and minerals, and she wears skin-tight compression suits at night to reduce muscle swelling and soreness.
"I haven't skipped a beat on the field and never missed a session because of my age," she said. "But I'm definitely more aware of my recovery techniques and what I put into my body as I get older. I probably wear the compression suit more than I need to, but I need to take care of my body, especially my joints. And even though I'm a mom and have two kids, I have to make sure I get enough sleep for the night."
A Captain Keeps Cool
Rampone welcomes the responsibility of being captain. Her position on the field requires constant communication with the players around her.
"That's where it can become draining for me," she said, "trying to keep everyone on a good page and having a pulse for the team. I try to take on whatever happens right away and not let anything linger."
In doing so, she has become the calming presence her teammates rely on.
"I have that calming effect of being more composed and not really showing the nerves even if I have them. It's just the way I present myself through my play," she said.
Not having a rattled captain allows others to express their emotions more freely and use those feelings to fuel the competitive drive. Still there's always the risk of losing a player to the heat of the moment, whether it's a bad referee call or the trash talk of an opponent who gets a player out of their game. Reining in emotions and restoring focus prevents mental errors and communication breakdowns.
That's not to say you don't want emotion at all.
"You want it," Rampone said, "to make sure you care and you're there for the right reasons, putting yourself on the field and making sure you do everything right. Work hard and battle. The rest will come."
Driven to Be Better
Rampone's hate-to-lose competitive drive is complemented by the desire to be the best person on the field for her team.
"There's no glory in being a defender," she said. "It's about trying to make everyone around you better. Just the feel of people succeeding makes me happy, and that's something that keeps the fire burning for me."
It's a constant thought process for Rampone, who contemplates her role not only for her team, but also for her sport.
"Coming into the tournament, we barely qualified. We had the most losses we had in a year, and some people didn't expect us to make it out of our group. If it wasn't for the Brazil game -- how entertaining and uplifting it was and the fight everyone could see in this team -- maybe we still wouldn't be where we are today," she said.
That game encouraged nearly 13.5 million people to watch the World Cup Finals and sparked 7,196 tweets per second in the closing moments of Japan's win -- a Twitter record.
Though the U.S. team did not win, there is no question it proved what it means to play the game: with heart, determination, fight and perseverance. The team handled its stresses, and millions of people found it inspiring.
For Rampone, it all comes back to how she approaches the game, day in and day out -- ice baths, nutrition, sleep -- and how she treats her teammates -- with respect and encouragement.
"She's a great leader not only by example and what she does to get ready, but how she treats the other athletes, the staff and everyone else involved," Snell said. "She makes you feel like she's in the foxhole with you.
"But there's something else," he added. "She has something inside her that just doesn't quit. I don't think there are many athletes that can do what she does. If there were some formula for doing that, we would bottle it up."
And yet, perhaps nothing connected to drive and passion should be confined to a bottle. Instead, maybe it should spill out and flow freely, turning doubt and uncertainty into astounding triumphs and reminding us what it is to be inspired by pressure.
- Martin Rose/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
By: Kristen Dalton
"Venerable & Valuable: Christie Rampone" courtesy of LIVESTRONG.COM.