Mental health struggles can be perceived as a sign of weakness but it’s vital to remind ourselves that this is not true.
We all have mental health which, just like our physical health can suffer. Many of us will experience anxiety or depression in our life.
Athletes are not immune to this either. The exercise and lifestyle habits that deliver fitness and strength provide many physical and psychological benefits, but just like your physical health, there are many factors which contribute to your mental health and it’s important not to take these for granted.
As a coach and athlete, I’m aware that competition pressures can leave athletes vulnerable. Sport requires a high level of commitment, focus and dedication. We are applauded for our relentless and refusal to accept limitations. People with particularly personality traits are attracted to this and excel at it through being able to apply themselves and focus in this way. It’s important to have an awareness and recognise when the stress of competition & striving to better yourself can impact negatively on your wellness. It can lead to create obsession thinking patterns which can become unhealthy and manifest in anxiety.
Comparisons and testing
The nature of some sports leads you to compare yourself to others. For team selection, tests, qualifiers, bouts you are measured against benchmarks and compared to others. This can improve your performance or reduce it. When we are under additional, or unexpected life pressures, for example from changes to relationships, caring responsibilities, financial challenges, work, injury or health conditions, it can feel overwhelming. De-selection and underperformance can be hard to deal with when we are not in our best mind set. It can re-affirm any self-limiting beliefs that we already hold.
Dealing with disappointment and letting people down
Sometimes we don’t meet our own expectations, or that of others. Other times we are publicly shamed, “You should have been able to…That wasn’t good enough….” Sometimes we underperform and struggle to let go of disappointment. It can be tough when you don’t have the time to make sense of it all or have access to a trusted person with whom you can talk things through.
Our ability to manage disappointment and learn from our mistakes impacts on our mindset, our attitude and our resilience.
As a clinical hypnotherapist, I think it’s important for me to acknowledge and raise awareness that body image, unrealistic ideals and fixations on having the perfect physique can also become problematic for athletes particularly, but also for the general population.
Perception, awareness and empathy
Many people will be uncomfortable with this post or by seeing all the awareness raising posts for world mental health day. It’s useful to notice why that is.
Hopefully, even if you have never suffered, you can still have empathy for others, and be open and aware for your friends.
It is important to have an awareness of the issues which may be impacting on your athletes, especially at times of high pressure which may increase their vulnerability, for example through changes in personal circumstances, or when they are injured or fatigued.
You may not feel equipped to deal with athlete wellbeing, but coaches are experts at utilising pressure to get the best out of their athletes. It’s important to sense when to turn the pressure down too. Have empathy, focusing more on rest and recovery strategies and sign posting them to any help or resources that they need.
It’s important to remember to take care of your mental health and plan well-being habits in addition to your physical training. Check in & take whatever action when needed. Talk to a trusted friend or seek professional help if necessary. Sometimes, solutions are simple and easy and will help you to pop back up. Often, it’s about managing stress and learning strategies to cope, managing fatigue, diet and sleep. Other times, a little deeper work may be needed to support you in a more sensitive way.
So, for world mental health weekend, take some time out to take care of yourself. Notice if you are out of balance and how you may gain equilibrium again.
Above all don’t be afraid to talk. That takes strength, grit and vulnerability, which is what great athletes and great people are made of.
Let’s support each other.
Image by Sash Shots Photography