"Athletes who suffer from stress and anxiety and do not learn to control their symptoms will soon have issues that will cross over into their performance"
In Ep 10. Coping with Stress and Anxiety, I talk about the importance for athletes to develop a healthy and sustainable system to manage their stress and anxiety.
With mental health on the rise, it has never been more important for athletes to understand that their athletic performance is directly tied to their overall health.
In this blog post, I will teach you how to apply 3 key concepts to improve your mental health:
- Acknowledge and identify your stressors and anxious thoughts
- Take care of your mind in the best way for you
- Have a coping strategy for peak stressful and anxious times
Identifying Anxious Thoughts
Identifying your stressors and anxious thoughts is an awful process because it involves the two things that make me uncomfortable when I'm vulnerable - journaling and talking to someone about my anxiety. Many find this process very uncomfortable as well because you're putting everything out there in the open which gives life to your thoughts and thus forces reality to set in - your thoughts must now be addressed.
So how do you actually navigate getting over this hurdle of vulnerability? Simply start! Just open your mouth and start talking or just start journaling. You might start off with what's the weather or what did you eat for lunch today? But you will end up way deeper than you ever thought you would have if you let yourself open up. Remember the hardest step is starting! So just go with the flow, and don't pressure yourself, you will uncover your negative thoughts in your own time.
To know when you've truly identified your anxious thoughts, a great strategy is to ask yourself one magical question 5 times. That question is simply "Why?". As you write down your thoughts dive deeper and ask yourself why you feel the way you do and/or why these thoughts stress you out or make you feel anxious. Once you can no longer answer why you've found the trigger.
To further guide you in this process, here are some examples of anxious thoughts:
- "I'm not good enough"
- "I'll get cut from my team if I make a mistake"
- "My parents will be disappointed in me"
- "All I am is an athlete"
Caring for Your Mind Your Way
Once you've identified your anxious thoughts, go eat a cookie, you deserve it! It may seem like a small step, but it's a crucial one. Acceptance is often a tough barrier to beat!
The next tip to manage your mental health is to find the best ways to care for your mind. Self-care looks different for everyone. Here are a few ways I practice self-care:
1. Cooking and baking foods I love
2. Going on peaceful nature walks with my dog
3. Listening to my favourite music playlists and podcasts
4. Doodling, colouring, and sketching
5. Staying active
To discover the best ways for you to care for yourself think about the things in life that bring you the most joy no matter what else may be going on in your life. Maybe your list of self-care tools is similar to mine, but maybe they are completely different. There is no right answer here it is simply about establishing the best way to care for your mind.
Breaking Free From Panic
I have one final trick for you to manage your stress and anxiety. You need to establish your own personal reinforcements reserved for managing peak mental overwhelm. Having your go-to calming strategies in your back pocket ensures you'll always have your own back. Maybe you're someone who suffers from panic attacks when extremely overwhelmed like me. In that case, pay special attention to this tip!
Since you don't know when a panic attack is going to happen, having a strategy to self-cope can not only minimize the recurrence of panic attacks but also allow them to pass faster. Personally, the most useful calming strategy I have found is focusing on my breadth by concentrating on every inhale and exhale. It works best when you try to slow down your breathing gradually.
To help you gain control of your breadth you can use finger counting to distract your brain from the panic and focus on this simple task instead. Simply, count on your fingers from 1 to 10 and repeat until you can breathe normally again. Feel free to use this strategy whenever you feel overwhelmed or stressed out and need to return to a neutral state.
With these 3 strategies, I hope you are now better equipped to support your mental health.
For more support on coping with stress and anxiety, check out Episode 10 here!