How Does Stress Affect Performance in Sports?

Not all stress is created equal — here’s what you need to know.

It’s normal for an athlete to feel stressed before a big game or a competition. If they didn’t feel stressed in the slightest, then one could argue that they were not prepared to give their best performance. This is similar to the inverted U theory and how athletes need to experience the optimal amount of arousal — not too much or too little — to perform at their best [1].

Too little stress/arousal and an athlete feels no sense of urgency or motivation to perform. On the other hand, too much stress can limit the athlete’s ability to focus and may cause them to choke or crumble under intense pressure. It’s all about finding balance!

This blog post will explain more about stress and how it affects performance in sports, beginning with more details on what causes stress, and tips to help you deal with stress in sports.

What causes stress in sports?

Everybody experiences stress, but athletes often experience it more than others. But why is this the case? Because it’s a balancing act — athletes need to balance training, competition, family commitments, relationships, and everyday life. And for college athletes (and other Elite athletes), you can throw school and work into the mix for a little extra chaos. 

And let’s not forget the intense public scrutiny that comes with being an Elite athlete.

These stressors are compounded by competition, especially during a big game, whether that’s the NBA finals, the PGA tournament, or a football game that decides who gets relegated.

With so many external factors inducing stress in athletes (and coaches), controlling the internal has never been more important. 

“If you do things to the limit, and don’t purposely go over that limit, then I think it’s fine to do whatever you want. So long as you enjoy it. That’s what’s important.” – Michael Schumacher.

How does stress affect sports performance?

Stress has a direct effect on sports performance. If an athlete feels too much pressure, the stress can get to them and cause them to freeze up, crumble under pressure, or make vital mistakes when it matters most.

It can also cause athletes to involuntarily tense up their muscles, leading to poor form and technique, may lead to cramp, among other issues.

To better demonstrate this intense pressure, let’s use the example of a presentation at work as it’s slightly more relatable for most people… it’s a slight diversion, but I promise it will be worth it…

You’ve been preparing for this presentation for a few weeks, rehearsing what you’re going to say, and running through the slides daily. But when it comes to actually delivering the presentation, you freeze up, you’re unsure of what you’re going to say next, and your mind goes blank.

This is the exact same thing that happens to athletes when they freeze up — but instead of not knowing what to say, they don’t know what to do, what play to make, where to pass, or what the next step is they should take. It’s like a deer caught in headlights. Athletes commonly freeze and choke, making crucial mistakes because of intense pressure.

How to deal with stress in sports

Okay, now that you know what causes stress and how it can directly affect an athlete’s performance, how do you deal with it? You can do numerous things to reduce stress and anxiety, from practicing deep breathing exercises and mindset recovery sessions to creating a pre-performance routine to increase familiarity and reduce stress. 

Below you’ll find a list of things you can do to help deal with stress in sports:

  • Perform deep breathing exercises
  • Create a pre-performance routine
  • Practice stressful situations in training 
  • Focus on getting the basics right (sleep, nutrition, etc.)
  • Visualize success

We’ll now break these tips down into more detail.

Perform deep breathing exercises

When people hear the words “deep breathing,” they often think of meditation. And while it can be a form of meditation, deep breathing exercises can also be used in those crucial moments; before taking a free kick, putting the ball in golf, or moments before toeing the line on the track.

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as “belly breathing,” involves breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Studies show that this breathing technique can be useful to improve sustained attention while better regulating stress [2].

Practice and perform this breathing technique to help alleviate stress and anxiety, whether that’s before competition or something as simple as reducing stress before sleep.

Read more: Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief: How to Do 5-10 Breathing.

Create a pre-performance routine 

The best athletes have a pre-performance routine that they follow like a horse wearing blinders. A set routine increases familiarity, reduces stress, and allows the athlete to get into the right head space and mindset to perform at their best.

You can create your own routine by eliminating activities that cause stress, and replace these with activities that increase focus and concentration. For example, this could include deep breathing exercises, listening to your favorite playlist, mentally rehearsing what the performance will look and feel like, and so on.

It takes time to find a routine that works for you. But begin experimenting by adding/removing activities to best reduce stress and improve your mindset leading up to the performance. 

Practice stressful situations in training 

A lot of athletes do not experience intense stress until it matters most — the final few minutes of a game, during a penalty shootout, or when they are tied on points on the last hole on the green.

A great way to reduce stress is to practice these stressful situations in training to increase familiarity. For instance, if you know your muscles tense, you feel anxious, and your palms get sweaty when taking penalties, practice this in training to reduce stress when it matters most. Practice goes a long way!

You can also add techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises during these intense moments so you have them in your toolkit — and know how to use them effectively — when you need them most.

Focus on getting the basics right

Although it may seem obvious, even Elite athletes need to get the basics right. We’re talking about sleep, nutrition, and recovery.

If one of these is out of whack, then stress may increase, and performance may decline. Get the basics right and then implement other techniques and mental skills, such as visualization — more on this below.

Visualize success 

Visualization is a powerful mental skill that many elite athletes use. It involves picturing yourself performing successful skill performance, whether that’s scoring a goal, passing the ball to a teammate down the wing, or saving a goal. 

Athletes use visualization to improve confidence, reduce stress and anxiety, and calm their nerves. 

Try a Rewire Stress Relief Session for Free

Use Rewire to reduce stress and improve performance 

Some level of stress is needed to improve performance. But too much stress — and not knowing how to control it — can cause an athlete to freeze, choke, or make vital mistakes when it matters most.

Rewire can help athletes reduce stress by tracking their physical, cognitive, and emotional states. Athletes gain access to science-backed protocols from sports psychology, such as guided breathing, pre-workout priming, visualization, and sleep protocols to improve performance and reduce stress and anxiety.

“I have been using the app for a few months. It has helped me set the proper mindset before workouts, disconnect before bedtime, and gauge my mental readiness on a daily basis.” – Matt Hanson (Professional Triathlete and Coach).

Find out how Rewire can help you


10 Books on Mindfulness Training to up Your Game

1) Mindfulness for Beginners (John Kabat-Zinn)

I first discovered Mindfulness for Beginners as a runner in university. I was fascinated by the idea of training the mind to unlock my potential. Fortunately, Kabat-Zinn’s work taught me that everything we need is already inside. In Mindfulness for Beginners, Kabat-Zinn gives an in-depth explanation of what it means to practice mindful attention in both an informal and formal way. He also gives one of the best operational definitions of mindfulness to start the book. Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment on purpose in a non-judgmental way.” He later goes on to describe how to practice each component of his definition (paying attention to the present, living intentionally and non-judgmental attitudes) by using stories and gives practical steps to advance your mindfulness practice. What I like so much about Kabat-Zinn is that it takes away the supernatural aspects that people may associate with practicing meditation and focuses on the real and now. This can be summed well by this line from Mindfulness for Beginners:

“The fact of the matter is that meditation is not about navel-gazing or giving up functioning in the world. Nor is it about giving up engaging passionately in projects of real value and getting things done, nor will it make you stupid or rob you of ambition or motivation.” (p. 80)

2) Wherever You Go, There You Are (John Kabat-Zinn, MD)

Wherever you go, there you are is another great book written by Kabat-Zinn. In case you were unaware, Kabat-Zinn started the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction medical model back in the 80s and 90s which has been effective in pain management for several chronic diseases. This book digs into his philosophy and years of practice by giving brief passages to reflect on while practicing meditation. One of my favorite lines from this book talks about how telling people about how you’re meditating kills your momentum and motivation to mentally train. In the words of Kabat-Zinn, “It’s best to meditate without advertising.”

3) Mindfulness on the Go: Simple meditation practices you can do anywhere (Jan Chozen Bays, MD)

After reading the intros to the first two books on this list, you may think, “How  am I supposed to do this? I hate sitting as it is, now I have to pay attention to it?” Well, it’s a lot simpler than you may be imagining or worrying about. Bays wrote this book to give her audience simple, meaningful mindfulness exercises to start doing. These practices would be what Kabat-Zinn considers informal exercises, but the reality is that you must stay present either way. My favorite exercise from the book is seeing how long you can focus on the sensation of your feet on the ground during the day. I do this exercise when I’m on a long run or track workout and things are starting to hurt.Rewire also has some great meditations to help center yourself throughout your day that are quick and informal. One of my favorites is Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing to help center me during the day.  Mindfulness On the Go is packed with different exercises to informally insert present-moment awareness  throughout your day.

4) Slalom: 6 River Classes about How to Confront Obstacles, Advance Amid Uncertainty, & Bring Focus to What Matters Most (Joe Jacobi, OLY)

If you want to read something simple yet profound about learning how to be present during difficult times, I suggest reading Slalom. Jacobi is a distinguished athlete (10x national champion and Olympic Gold Medalist) who understands how to get the best of yourself and others during trying times. I picked up this book earlier this summer as I was beginning to practice open water swimming in Lake Michigan. I was always uncertain about swimming in open water and have had periods of intense anxiety towards it. However, Jacobi’s advice of building what he called an “unlikely collaboration” certainly helped me redefine my relationship with uncertainty and get out of my comfort zone further. Another way I have been deliberately adding obstacles is by adding post-workout Rewire sessions after harder days on the track or in the gym. 

5) The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness (John Yates, Matthew Immergut and Jeremy Graves)

If you have read Mindfulness for Beginners and have made it this far, you’ll be glad to note this book gives an in-depth approach to the use of mindfulness training in your everyday life. The Mind Illuminated is essentially a practical manual for meditation practitioners to guide others through a transcendent experience. What I liked about this book is that Yates and co. talk about how several cultures outside of eastern Asia have their own history of practices that develop a present moment awareness. The authors of this book also go into detail about how to overcome several barriers that may occur as someone goes through a mindfulness practice. I like to read this book more as a workout plan for your mind. You don’t do everything in a single activity and expect to be fully present 100% of the time, right? Neither should you expect that from this book. Rather, this book can take weeks if you’re practicing and trying to troubleshoot different aspects of your mental practice. 

6) Mindsight (Dan Siegel, MD)

Personally, this was one of my favorite books to read throughout grad school, and one that I’m hoping to reread within the next year. In Mindsight, Dr. Siegel goes on to explain what mindsight is- the trainable skill to separate ourselves from our emotional responses. The idea of perceiving the mind as separate from ourselves comes from multiple cultural traditions including the stoics and Buddhists. How we perceive our emotions can change how we react to them. Dr. Siegel goes on to also explain the neurobiological mechanisms that occur when we can “name and tame” our emotions. When we develop this form of attention, we can clearly understand our own responses, habits and take control over our emotional intelligence. 

7) The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance (George Mumford)

Mumford has been a force in the mindfulness training community for decades. If you open his book, you’ll read reviews from athletes at the high school, college and professional level who only talk about the benefits of meditation. In the Mindful Athlete, Mumford digs into the power to stay present and locked in during important performances. It is a power (or rather superpowers) that every athlete has inside of them and only learns to unleash through mindfulness training. He teaches us through his words that mindfulness training isn’t a destination, but a journey. On that journey, you might find greatness along the way. To summarize this, the first few lines of Mumford’s journey can pull anyone into this book for hours:

“Pain brought me to mindfulness, not any desire to reach nirvana or pop out of any chrysalis. It was unlearning certain habits and thought patterns hard-wired in my brain and walking through my pain, rather than avoiding it, that ultimately put me on a joyful journey of self-discovery.”

8) Good Morning, I Love You (Shauna Shapiro, PhD)

This is a book that I’ve gifted to nearly every person I know who has experienced chronic pain. In Good Morning, I Love You, Shapiro retells her story of being a competitive volleyball player whose career was upended by a severe back injury. After a trip with her best friends to study meditation in southeast Asia, Shapiro noticed differences in herself. This led her on a journey to become a clinical health psychologist who specializes in mindfulness training. Shapiro gives meditations to practice for beginners, as well prompts that she has used in her own practice to help her develop her own mental training. 

9) 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (Oliver Burkeman)

These last two books are not focused on meditation training specifically. Rather, they will change your view of reality and teach you what it really means to be intentional. My grandfather always told me that you don’t find time for the things you care about, you make time. In Burkeman’s 4,000 Weeks, he eloquently digs into the fact that are culture of productivity is built upon smoke and mirrors. The fact is that we only have so much time to do something meaningful on this planet and time itself is a reality, not a resource. The most powerful lesson I learned from this was much like a budget, to make you pay yourself first with your time during the day. I usually start with a readiness assessment from Rewire when I finally look at my phone and practice meditation for the first 15-20 minutes of my day.  I’ll let you dig into the rest of the details and have your own epiphany, but if you want something to reinforce your intentional and deliberate practice during the work week, I highly suggest you read this book. If you want more strategies on how to pay yourself first in the morning with your time, I also suggest this post on how to master your morning routine. 

10) This Is Water: Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion about living a compassionate life (David Foster Wallace)

Lastly, if you need something brief to help you break out of autopilot, This is Water is just for you. This essay takes about 30-35 minutes to read, but hours of deliberate practice to fully comprehend if you’re like me. Wallace wrote this in a contrarian style when he was asked to give a commencement speech at Kenyon College. The premise of this book is that the young graduates who he was addressing had no idea of what kind of world they were just about to enter after getting into college. So many people live their lives unconsciously in doing mode, that they never contemplate the reality of the world they live in. This is the water that Wallace addresses in his first few lines of the speech. After reading this essay, I hope you begin to understand the difference between living your regular 9-5 lifestyle, that comfortable routine you can shut your mind off in. Instead, I hope you learn what it means to live a meaningful and intentional life by delving into at least one of the few books that I’ve laid out for you here. 

These books are just a guide to get started on developing your own mindfulness practice. I’ll be honest in saying that I’m still working through some of these books as I explore my own meditation practice. I hope these books give you a guide to start thinking about both the philosophy and practical application mindfulness training can play in your athletic careers.

Through mindfulness training, you can develop a powerful mind-body connection which can increase your performances.  Jumpstart your mindfulness practice by using the Mindset Recovery tools provided within the Rewire app and help you track of your mental training.

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Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief: How to Do 5-10 Breathing

Here’s how a simple belly breathing exercise can help reduce stress.

Do you currently feel stressed or overwhelmed? Maybe you feel an intense pressure at work, or maybe you’ve just had a newborn, you’re not getting enough sleep, and you’re feeling more stressed than ever?

Whatever it is, just know that it’s completely normal to feel stressed from time to time.

Stress is the body’s response to pressure. When we feel threatened, our bodies produce the fight-or-flight response. And while this helps us respond quickly to life-threatening situations, experiencing too much fight or flight in our daily lives can have various detrimental side effects.

But as already mentioned, some level of stress is normal. Besides, it shows you care about your work, family, or other commitments.

So, how do you better control and manage stress? This blog post will explain a type of diaphragmatic breathing and other tips to help you reduce stress and focus on what matters most.

How common is stress?

The Mental Health Foundation reported a staggering 74% of people felt so stressed they were unable to cope and felt overwhelmed. The study consisted of an online poll of 4,619 respondents in the UK.

The reasons for feeling stressed varied. But common causes included:

  • A health condition or health concern
  • Financial stress
  • Appearance and body image stressors 
  • Housing worries
  • Pressure to succeed 

These are just a few of the many stressors found in today’s society. But there are plenty of other reasons to feel stressed.

Maybe you feel undertrained for your first marathon, you feel stressed about riding your road bike on the road for the first time, or perhaps the demands of working long hours into the evening are finally affecting your mental and emotional capacity. 

What are the side effects of stress?

While stress can be useful in small doses, and in the right situations, most of the time, we’d prefer not to be stressed…

You may even find yourself stressing about being stressed – if this sounds like you, then you may benefit from guided breathing exercises for stress relief.

But what are the side effects of stress? According to Mind, If you commonly experience stress, you may feel:

  • Irritable or angry
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious, nervous, or afraid
  • Depressed
  • Neglected or lonely
  • Unable to enjoy yourself 
  • Like your mind is racing 

These are just a few of the many side effects. There are also more short-term side effects that you may encounter, such as difficulty breathing, panic attacks, problems sleeping, stomach issues, intense sweating, and more.

Tackling your source of stress is crucial. Maybe that means taking on fewer projects at work, asking for a helping hand, or adding a rest day to your training to unwind and decompress.

You can also try breathing exercises for stress – there are a ton of sessions you can try on the Rewire app.

If you feel stressed and you’re experiencing a mix of side effects that are negatively impacting your day-to-day life, then you might benefit from a visit to a healthcare professional.

Breathing exercises for stress

Breathing exercises, specifically slow breathing exercises, promote comfort and relaxation and reduce symptoms of anxiety, confusion, anger, and even depression, as stated in a 2018 study

Adding breathing exercises to your daily routine can help combat stress.

You don’t need to perform these at the same time every day, either. You can do breathing exercises for stress when you need them most.

Alternatively, you can also try guided meditation and breathing exercises, usually done first thing in the morning or right before bed.

The 5-10 breathing exercise 

5-10 breathing is a form of diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing – this is where you inhale through your nose and exhale out through your mouth.

This breathing exercise for stress relief sends signals to your brain and nervous system to help reduce stress and other emotional responses (anxiety, fear, etc.) . In particular, it’s the long exhale that activates the parasympathetic nervous system (and deactivates the sympathetic nervous system) to calm the body down. It may take a little while to get used to, but with a little practice and the helping hand of our guided session, you’ll be on your way to a less stressful day. 

So, how do you do it?

Inhale through your nose to the count of five and exhale through your mouth to the count of ten. That’s one breath.

Repeat as needed – typically, you want to perform this exercise for at least 2 minutes to feel the full effect.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing include improved cognitive performance and reduced stress. It may also lower your blood pressure and heart rate.

It’s a relatively easy breathing exercise to learn and can be done anywhere, making it a great tool for stress relief when you need it most. 

The Rewire mindfulness and recovery protocol for stress relief 

The Rewire app contains a mix of mindfulness and recovery protocols that use breathing exercises and binaural beats to help facilitate certain emotional responses, whether that’s stress relief, improved focus, or relaxation.

We have a few stress relief sessions on the Rewire app, but the guided stress relief session is our most popular session for stress reduction – more on this below. 

Mindset Recovery – Stress Relief

The Rewire stress relief guided recovery session uses the 5-10 breathing technique and 2 Hz binaural beats to help alleviate stress and achieve a calm state of mind. On average, Rewire users report a 70% decrease in stress after a 2-minute session.

It takes less than 4 minutes to do, can be done anywhere, and will leave you feeling less stressed.

If you have Rewire downloaded on your mobile device, tap here to try ‘stress relief’. 

Reduce stress with Rewire Fitness

Rewire can help you combat stress to improve your day-to-day life.
Start using the Rewire Fitness app for free to help reduce stress when you need it most. Take control of your emotional response and improve your day-to-day well-being and stress levels, increasing presence and allowing you to focus on what matters most.


Gerritsen, R.J. and Band, G.P., 2018. Breath of life: the respiratory vagal stimulation model of contemplative activity. Frontiers in human neuroscience, p.397.

Ma, X., Yue, Z.Q., Gong, Z.Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.Y., Shi, Y.T., Wei, G.X. and Li, Y.F., 2017. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, p.874.

Mental Health Foundation. n.d. Stress: statistics. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 October 2022].

Mind. 2022. Signs and symptoms of stress. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 October 2022].

Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B. and Gemignani, A., 2018. How breath-control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, p.353.


4 Ways to Boost Mental Fitness

1. Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness is a great way to build mental fitness because it means tuning in to our bodies. The real skill we are trying to develop here is the ability to notice when our thoughts distract us in order to build awareness of the world around us.

Integrating a mindfulness session into our daily routine can help as regularly train our mental fitness. Find what works best for you! Whether that be a quiet five minutes of box breathing with Rewire or half an hour of deep meditation.

Regular mindfulness practice can increase our awareness, which in turn allows us to increase our willpower and build our mental fitness.

2. Physical exercise

Similar to how mindfulness can relax our body, working out can relax our mind. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and reduce tension, like these hip mobility exercises.

Since the mind and the body are interconnected, training the body and focusing on building cognitive resilience can help us improve our mental fitness.

The Rewire App offers different sessions that can help you achieve a wide range of goals. For example, the pre-workout priming sessions are designed to enhance your workout by priming you for optimal performance.

3. Diet and hydration

Eating the right foods and making sure we get enough water is especially important to ensure our minds and bodies receive the nutrients and energy they need to reach optimal physical and mental fitness.

Check out our article on the foods to fight fatigue.

4. Awareness

Training our mental fitness is key to establishing a strong mental health foundation. To achieve optimal health, both physical awareness and mental awareness are important.

Both training and recovery are important for the mind as a high-level holistic approach to mental fitness.

When we are aware of the challenges that face us, body and mind, we can equip ourselves with the right tools to support us. Building mental fitness means we are fit to face these challenges and being aware of our readiness to face them is essential for a successful outcome.

Rewire’s Readiness Assessment is an easy way to add value to your morning routine.

Feeling strong? Rewire will push you beyond what you think you are capable of.

Feeling drained? Rewire will create a personalized Mindset Recovery session for you.

Give these a try to boost your mental fitness:

1. Set your intentions – build on your mindfulness and awareness by creating intention.

You identified that you feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the day? Sit yourself down in a calm environment and write down your to-do list, prioritize, and then complete something small. This will allow you to get the ball rolling and start your day on a positive note.

2. Social interaction – building and maintaining meaningful relationships helps grounds us, secure our values, and build a supportive network.

Meeting new people and exploring different cultures is a valuable way to expand both our social circle and challenge our thoughts and beliefs.

3. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new – what about giving Rewire a try? Improve your mental fitness and build mental resilience with the Rewire App. Start free today!

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3 Mindful Quotes to Start Your Week

Sunday is here, and you want to start your week with words that will carry you through it. One key thing to note this week: Remember to be intentional and mindful in everything you do. Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and acknowledging what is around you.

Here are three quotes that will push you through to kick start your week with positivity and mindfulness. 

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention; this is how we cultivate mindfulness.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 This is one famous quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an expert in stress reduction, relaxation, and mindfulness application to live at an optimum level daily. Waking up every day and meditating for five minutes will improve your focus, and being intentional in paying attention to what matters makes you appreciate the small things in life. Being able to wake up and see the day is a moment you need to capture and enjoy. The Rewire App will help you get to that focus level that you need to be mindful in what you do throughout the week and be present daily. Check out the mindset recovery sessions to start your day on the right track. 

Mindfulness is not difficult; we just need to remember to do it.” – Sharon Salzberg

Sharon co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. She reminds us that you need to be intentional in your daily life and remember the things that are important to you. Yes, you want to watch that sitcom, but if you are really honest with yourself, you know you will feel better if you work out instead. Being mindful of your thoughts and feelings will help you to do what you want to do most, not what you want to do most right now. To make this habit stick is to be present at every moment. If you are working on clarity of the mind, be there and feel everything that comes with it. 

“Everything is created twice first, in mind, and then it is a reality.” – Robin Sharma

Best-selling author, Robin Sharma, said it best. You do what you think. This means to be mindful—having the intentionality to think through what is important to you and be at peace with it. Taking a 15-minute walk without distractions and being in the moment is far more critical than scrolling through Instagram and wishing you had that body or job. Appreciating what you have at the moment is key to helping you get to the next level. 

There are many quotes to make you get up and do what you must do throughout the week. The Rewire App is here to guide you through the process. To make it simple, efficient, and beneficial to your daily life. These three above are a start to help you be more mindful and intentional with your week and days ahead. Join the Rewire today for free and learn so much more.

Happy week ahead!

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