With the country in lockdown and sport of all kinds cancelled or postponed, we are certainly in unprecedented times. Understandably, there are lots of people out there feeling stressed and anxious, as well as athletes not being able to train and compete.
So, at InnerDrive HQ we thought we’d help athletes to understand why they’re stressed, what they can do about it, and how they can best keep their competitive edge too.
Why are we stressed?
One of the main causes of stress is uncertainty. For many athletes, it can be even scarier than the worst-case scenario. In the current situation, no one really knows what is going to happen.
For example, for a lot of our athletes, their season may have been stopped or may not have even gotten off the ground yet. Therefore, not knowing when they will next be able to compete, or even train, can be an extremely difficult prospect.
Our brains also crave a sense of control. Whilst in the current climate there is very little that we can change or control, focusing on this too much will only make you more stressed. Instead, thinking about what you can do every day to help yourself will start to ease the stress and channel your focus into something productive.
For instance, a lot of athletes might now be focusing on the fact that they are unable to compete, when they could focus on things that they can actually control. To make that shift, at the start of every day, ask yourself: ‘What can I do today to make sure I bounce back the best?’.
Emotional contagion is when feelings are spread from one person to another. This means that we can literally catch other people’s emotions, almost through a form of osmosis. Lots of athletes are surrounded with and spend a lot of their time speaking to other athletes who may be stressed too. This means that there is a chance that you could start to feel even more stressed and nervous as their emotions start to rub off on you. To find out more about emotional contagion, check out this blog.
So, if these are the causes for stress, then what can we do to look after our mental health? Also, how can we at the same time maintain our competitive edge?
6 Top tips to look after your mental health and keep your competitive edge
Knowledge brings power
If uncertainty brings stress, then knowledge brings power. This means that both what you are reading, and where you are getting your information from are highly important.
Staying on top of any updates from governing bodies or event organisers can be invaluable as it will help to reduce some of the of uncertainty that you are facing. In this vein, using any information you get to help plan for likely situations, will help you feel more in control and prepared.
Keep calm and carry on
Where possible, having a set routine is key. A great way to ensure that you stick to yours is to set your daily tasks/goals the night before. This will help you schedule your day and feel more positive about your achievements as well.
However, changing too much too soon can be quite a shock to the system. Therefore, new behaviours and tasks are more likely to be effective if you weave them into your daily routine. Researchers describe this as being ‘subtle and stealthy’. This means that keeping as much from your usual training schedule in place as possible is key. For example, exercising as best as you can, recovery and diet.
To read more about new habits and routines, check out our blog here.
Communication is key
Self-isolation and loneliness can be key factors leading to feelings of depression. Therefore, talking to others is so important during these times and this can take many forms. Of course, talking face-to-face with people in your household can be really helpful. However, for athletes, talking to friends and training partners, or teammates and support staff over the phone can also have a really positive effect even if you aren’t training or competing at usual.
We often feel better when we know that people share or understand our feelings and emotions, thus, speaking to like-minded people can be a helpful strategy.
When we don’t have to leave the house, the temptation to stay up late and sleep less can be all too much. However, getting enough sleep is vital as it can have a serious effect on both our mind and body. A lack of sleep causes moodiness and irritability, whilst also encouraging pessimistic thinking. It also means your body recovers more slowly and you will be more likely to get injured.
To make sure you get a good night’s sleep, check out our sleep guide here and be sure not to make any of the 9 most common sleep mistakes. For athletes with usually busy schedules, this is a great chance to finally get your sleeping pattern right!
Where possible, and of course within the government restrictions, staying active is going to be really important. As well as known physical benefits, exercise can help improve your mood, self-esteem and ability to deal with stress.
It’s easy to put off training given that you’re not competing at the moment, however exercise also helps combat fatigue, encourages better mental health and keeping you focused on the present. Additionally, if exercise is part of your usual routine, it is beneficial to keep as much of this in place as possible.
Adjust your goals
When we have targets and goals to focus on, it is sometimes easy to forget what the bigger picture is. Remembering where you are going and where you want to be can increase your motivation to succeed. However, for most athletes, the goal posts may now have shifted. Therefore, making sure that you adjust your expectations over the next few weeks will be crucial. Those that don’t will find they become more frustrated because they will be fighting against the new reality rather than accepting it and working towards it.
With isolation increasing and rising uncertainty, it’s easy to be swept up in all the chaos and feel alone. However, following these easy 6 top tips will help you feel more positive, productive and prepared.