Playing sports is well-known for its positive effects on mental health, but it doesn’t guarantee that athletes are immune to mental illness.
For this reason, the topics surrounding mental wellness in sports settings have become more prevalent and commonplace.
Read on as we highlight how interconnected mental well-being is with sports performance and some tips to overcome mental illness.
Mental health and athletes
Mental illness can affect anyone at any stage of life, but athletes are more at risk of these issues due to extreme requirements and constant pressure. In fact, they can be subject to more stress triggers more often than an average person.
In Australia, one in five adults have experienced or is currently living with a mental health condition. That is equivalent to about 4 million people in the population.
As impressive as most athletes are, they are still human beings that deal with several stressors in their day-to-day lives.
The stigma of mental health still surrounds many sports categories. Because of the incredible strength, disciple, and achievements that athletes display, there is a misconception that they do not experience issues relating to mental health.
However, the reality is that many of them may be even more prone to mental illness than the general population. The stressful culture, the lifestyle requirements, the competitive environment, and the impact of social stigmas can all contribute to poor mental health in athletes.
Thus, raising awareness and starting conversations about mental health in sports is even more crucial.
Signs of mental health changes
According to research, many athletes do not actively seek mental health help and acknowledge its symptoms. Someone like coaches, parents, and teammates often notice something is off and encourages them to speak up about it.
Common signs that an athlete is experiencing poor mental health include:
- Extreme Irritability
- Low energy before, during, and after playing
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in eating habits (non-related to sports requirements)
- Always seems distracted
- Lack of focus
- Poor score or performance
Stress and anxiety are not unique among athletes as the unique culture of sports can sometimes serve as a pressure culture.
Finding a healthy balance can be difficult for others, as engaging in a certain level of competition can sometimes turn up the heat on some triggers.
However, there are ways to prevent mental illness and work your way up to the top without it holding you down,
Tips for managing sports stress and anxiety
Here are some effective strategies to boost your confidence and reduce anxiety as you prepare for your next competition.
Talk through the stress.
Confide with a friend, family member, teammate, or your coach on things that are causing you stress. Do not hold in the things that are frustrating you, as sometimes talking through these things is one of the best ways to support good mental health.
Set realistic goals
Remember that progress and success take time. Start with reevaluating all personal and professional goals and ensure that you are not pushing yourself too hard or setting unrealistic expectations in the future.
Focus on what matters
Focus on things you need to do to become the best version of yourself and try to remove the stress from the unhealthy competition in the equation.
Take care of physical well-being.
Physical health certainly has its effect on mental health. Take care of your body by getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and practising injury prevention techniques (stretching, taking rest days, etc.)
Practice progressive muscle relaxation techniques
These techniques, along with cognitive behavioural therapy, can contribute to reducing sports anxiety by calming your muscles and nerves. Do these, especially when you feel stress and anxiety are building up and becoming too overwhelming.
Engage with professionals
Let your coach, trainer, or GP know your struggles and that you don’t need to work through everything independently. Speaking with an experienced professional, particularly in this field, can help develop the tools to reduce mental stress and help you get back on track.
Making mental health a priority for athletes
In today’s win-at-all-cost world, there are enormous pressure and obstacle that athletes are facing on an everyday basis.
The best solution to reduce the problem is to start an open conversation and put mental health on the priority list. Consider having all athletes attend Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to understand more about this topic.
Mental Health First Aid
MHFA teaches participants how to engage with symptoms of mental illness and how to respond to these signs effectively.
With this information, coaches, trainers, and even team members will better understand how to support one another on and off the playing field. Book an MHFA course to start your mental health and wellness journey.