Staying mentally healthy as an athlete during this lockdown
Athletes are accustomed to structure and a disciplined routine, and this time is anything but that. Implement measures to help athletes maintain their mental balance and focus. Encourage them to participate in activities that provide pleasure, a sense of achievement, and connect them socially with their support network.
The reintroduction of the lockdown and social distancing have forced athletes in Kenya to adapt their daily routines. With competitions canceled or postponed, it is hard for athletes and their support teams to prepare for the unknown. This fluctuating schedule can affect an athlete’s training program, mental wellbeing, and possibly their desire to exercise. Never has an athlete’s support network been more critical.
With no sporting events for the media to cover at present, coverage is now focused on the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly adding to an athlete’s worry and anxiety. If an athlete has experienced mental health issues previously, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), mood disorder, insomnia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an event of this scale could trigger or exacerbate these syndromes. The nature and severity of the symptoms that the athlete experiences dictate the level of care they should seek. Mood, low-level anxiety, and sleep disorders are likely successfully treated by a psychologist or counselor
More severe presentations, such as severe anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, necessitate a referral to a psychiatrist.
Risk factors for poor mental health
Multiple factors may predispose an athlete to poor mental health. A sports-related injury, lackluster performance, overtraining, and the type of sport played – those who play individual sports are at a higher risk for poor mental health than team sports – are all risk factors.
Other risk factors may include major events, such as the current global situation, isolation, and impaired sleep patterns.
During this time of economic uncertainty, athletes too may experience food or housing insecurity. In contrast, other athletes won’t be affected economically by the pandemic. Therefore, each athlete’s situation is different, and all should be handled with sensitivity. An athlete’s support team must focus on the welfare of the individual, not only the athlete’s training program.
Promote an athlete’s mental wellbeing by encouraging balance in their daily activities. The absence of pleasurable activities, a sense of achievement from usual set tasks, or connecting with others can affect mood and cause low feelings.
A pleasurable activity could be reading, listening to music, or watching something funny on the television. Encourage athletes to create a list of tasks. For example, household chores, an exercise session, or a range of administrative type jobs checked off of a to-do list give a feeling of accomplishment.
Encourage compliance with a regular training routine when possible. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ hormones, and thus, promotes feelings of mental wellbeing. Gym closures may require athletes to get creative with household items to maintain their strength and conditioning . Help athletes develop sport-specific goals to work toward with the tools they have during this time of isolation.
Video technology is in a boom phase currently, and there many outlets such as Zoom, Go To Meeting, WhatsApp, and Facetime, which allow for interaction with others. The video chats allow athletes continued connection with support staff for physio appointments and training updates. It also affords them a means to stay connected to a team atmosphere. Conduct regular video discussions where athletes can express their concerns and worries. The realization that others share the same feelings helps relieve anxiety and fosters wellbeing ,
While the priority for all at the current time is to stay healthy and free from the COVID-19 virus, it is also a time of high stress and worry. Athletes are accustomed to structure and a disciplined routine, and this time is anything but that. Implement measures to help athletes maintain their mental balance and focus. Encourage them to participate in activities that provide pleasure, a sense of achievement, and connect them socially with their support network.