Practicing self-care in the ruthless world of competitive sport

Mental toughness is required for competition sports. After all, if everyone could do it, everyone would do it. Olympians especially have a high level of self-confidence, focus and goal orientation, according to the Journal of Sports Sciences.

But around all this mental toughness — the resiliency, confidence, motivation and ability to manage emotional pain — how do you make sure that you’re taking proper care of your mental health and avoiding crossing the line from resiliency and confidence to cynicism and egotism? From perfectionism to depression or anxiety?

Mental health struggles can come in any point in an athlete’s career and can stem from many factors, including the fear of failing or the inability to identify one’s self without the sport they love. Several years ago, a cast of Olympian athletes appeared on an SBS Insight episode, detailing how they experienced mental health struggles just because of the latter issue. These Olympians included Lauren Jackson, Libby Trickett, Matthew Mitcham and Jana Pittman. Last year, Australian athletes teamed with Headspace, to talk about the importance of mental health care in athletics, including Daniel Arzani, James Tedesco and Dale Thomas.

So, how can athletes make sure to take care of their minds, just the same way they do their bodies?

Down time

It’s important to have downtime in your routine, so you don’t burn out and you stay motivated. Caitlin Jones, member of Australian women’s 4x400m relay squad, says she’s reduced her early start days in the past to ensure she gets quality recovery sleep, and she likes to unwind and switch off by watching some of her favorite television shows. Whether it’s a non-sports hobby like binging on your favorite show, reading or spending time with family and friends, or just making sure you get enough sleep each night, downtime can ensure you’re ready to face your next challenge afresh.

Talk it out

Surround yourself with a variety of people for a well-varied support system. You want to have people who understand what you’re going through as an athlete, but you also want to have people that you can hang out with who won’t talk about anything sports related (giving your brain a break!).

Know when it’s time to get help

There’s no shame in getting some help for a mental struggle or illness, just like there’s no shame in going to the doctor for an injury. Sometimes a mental health challenge can become very difficult, so much so that a little self-care won’t necessarily help the problem. Ian Thorpe describes his own journey with depression, saying: “It’s like a weight is pressing down on you. There are days when you just can’t get out of bed. You cannot face the world. You tell yourself simple things like: ‘Just get to the kitchen and get a glass of water.’ But not being able to do something so basic is frightening.”

If this sounds like you, or you struggle with depression or anxiety seek help and call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the beyond blue website

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