COVID-19 has had significant and devastating impacts for many athletes and sporting clubs, from major to local competitions being postponed or cancelled. This, of course, has led to restricted access to normal training routines as we isolate at home. These changes can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and/or reduced mood, and not just for those with pre-existing mental illness.
Subsequently, the measures needed to stop the spread and eradicate COVID-19 have indeed had a major impact on your life and sport.
At Athlete IQ – Our team has compiled 13 simple things you can do to lessen the psychological impact and importantly maximise the opportunity in this period to increase your well-being.
- Maintain a clean, healthy diet
Nutrition plays an important role in the structure and function of the brain. Hence, what we eat can, therefore, influence how effectively our brains operate. A highly processed diet with poor quality nutrition increases the likelihood of mental health disorders including anxiety and depression. However, a diet high in whole foods, full of natural or minimally processed contents actually has a protective effect on brain and organ health, but also mental health.
Maintaining quality nutritional intake can be used to help not just physical health but also mental performance. Below are some tips for healthy eating to show the impact nutrition can have towards optimising mental health and performance in the current climate.
Below are some key nutrients involved in optimal mental health;
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), walnuts, flaxseeds
Yoghurt, kefir, sourdough bread, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi
Egg yolk, fatty fish, mushrooms
Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables (kale, baby spinach)
Fruit (dark berries), vegetables (artichoke, cabbage), herbs (thyme, parsley), spices (turmeric, pepper), dark chocolate
Here are 6 tips for including more mood food in your diet;
- Eat fatty fish three-four times per week. This could include smoked salmon with your eggs at breakfast, tinned tuna on Vita-Weats as a snack or a salmon fillet with roast vegetables at dinner
- Eat fermented food at least once a day. This could be yoghurt with your breakfast cereal, sourdough bread for your sandwich at lunch, or sauerkraut in your salad at dinner
- Choose wholegrain carbohydrate options – grainy bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and quinoa
- Flavour meals with herbs and spices – bake your vegetables with some oregano or thyme sprinkled on top, or add cinnamon to your porridge
- Aim for three or more different vegetables at lunch and dinner – cucumber, tomato and spinach on a sandwich for lunch, and stir-fry with zucchini, capsicum, and carrot at dinner
- If you enjoy eating chocolate, consider choosing dark chocolate as a dessert option every now and then
Learn more about sports nutrition here https://athleteiq.com.au/services/sports-performance-dietetics/
- Go on a Digital Diet and limit time on technology
A wider discussion of the role of technology in human and athletic development is beyond the scope of this article, however, there are some real implications of media and tech overuse and misuse on the lives and athlete development and that is what I’m going to touch on here.
The overuse ranges far beyond the training and competitive settings in which athletes perform and carry out their daily lives.
The last generation or two (post smartphone invention) have become addicted to social media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, and others.
Addiction is a strong word; however, it has been validated by the research which has established that social media has the same neurochemical effect on the brain as drugs, alcohol, and gambling.
We know that technology is everywhere in today’s society. However, there is an apparent inability for most young athletes to disconnect from their phones, even during practice.
So, you may wonder, how is this incessant use of media impacting athletes?
The biggest area in which athletes are finding more and more difficulty is in the simple act of focusing.
Considerable research has found that the attention spans of young people have decreased since the rise of smartphones and social media. Because of the distractions caused by the constant pinging, buzzing, and vibrating of social media notifications, not to mention the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) effect, young people are losing the ability to stay focused for extended periods. The result has been a decline in study habits, learning, and grades.
- Choose your news carefully
It’s critical to get your news information from trusted sources. For peace of mind, set yourself sensible boundaries and resist getting caught up in hysteria or face news. For well-being, try not to spend too much time checking stories on social media as this may increase anxiety, stress, and worry. Some trusted resources are typically from government websites and you should utilise these for COVID-19 updates.
http://www.ncaa.org – there you can also find useful tips on wellbeing
- Be OK when you or your family are stressed
Presently, there is a lot of uncertainty. The reality is that this is a stressful time. Moreover, everyone is feeling the stress to some extent, from worry about getting sick to losing a job or protecting loved ones. The list is many and varied, but the uncertainty is here to stay in the midst of a rapidly changing world.
Know that it’s okay to feel stressed, worried, or anxious. These feelings will pass. Emotions are like clouds in the sky, they come and ago. When you are ok being stressed – think about your response to it. Importantly, it’s what you do next and what action you take that matters most; when dealing with stress like, put in place practical things you can do like preparing for training at home, commit to studying for an hour, or remain socially connected with friends online (etc.) – this will all help you deal with and overcome the feelings of stress. Know that the best way to deal with stress is to talk about it.
- Take action on what matters most (Great athletes base their decisions on values, not emotions)
When you continually focus and worry about things outside your control (e.g. the postponement of the Games, the virus, or the economy), it begins a vicious cycle of negative thinking – which has a negative effect on your mental state. This can affect your motivation and arousal levels to train, work, and study. Moreover, it will negatively affect your energy levels, mood, and general well-being as you may begin to feel helpless.
Human psyche craves both healthy levels of certainty (security) and uncertainty (variety), however, while you should still allow and validate these external events, it’s critical to refocus yourself and redirect your attention to the things that are within your control – which you can take action on for you to get better?
You can simply ask yourself;
- What can I do today to get better? Or
- What’s next?
- What can I action in my own life?
- What do I need to eat healthy this week?
- Have I thought about connecting with Athlete IQ nutrition?
- What can I learn today?
- Did I work hard enough today?
- Is my equipment ready for my home training program?
- Can I amend or increase my study load?
- Establish some short-term goals
Realistic short-term goals are key during this time of uncertainty. Start to think about what you’d like to achieve over the next week or month.
Think about how you’re going to achieve that and what you need to do to achieve it.
It’s healthy to have a variety of goals to aspire to, as having multiple goals across a wide range of areas including social or family life, physical development, and personal development (e.g. learning a new skill, studying) develops you as a person, contributes to your development and character.
Simple tasks like checklists or journaling a list of things you’ve been putting off may help and keep you motivated as you tick them off each day.
- Use routines to stay active and healthy
First and foremost – look after yourself. Develop routines to continue to exercise, in conjunction with healthy dietary and hydration choices. Ensure you have a sound sleep routine and maintain relative structure within your day.
If you thrive on structure and routine – this should be easy. Whilst athletes and support staff are used to, and generally excel on structure and routine, it’s important you keep these same foundations to help support your own and others’ wellbeing and performance. A great way to stay accountable is to help others and or your teammates out in the area.
Try and schedule in specific times to exercise with a teammate, pencil in a time to connect with family and friends and do things you enjoy.
- Stay connected to your support network
Social interaction and connection are important for our mental health. Think of other ways you can connect with friends and family whilst adhering to medical advice to distance yourself.
Humans love connection – so in this period, do all you can through technology or daily check-ins with teammates and coaches to interreact and talk.
- Have a mindset to give and support others
Most athletes love the feeling of contribution and giving back. Keep on the lookout and make an effort to see how your loved ones and extended family are going. Moreover, check-in for people displaying signs of severe distress and actively listen to other people’s stresses, needs, and concerns. Just by listening and having discussions, together you can learn and share useful information or link people with social support, information, and professional help if needed.
- Quieten your mind for clarity
Mindfulness is all the rage and rightly so. Many great athletes attest to this. Practicing mindfulness meditation through apps such as Calm, Headspace, and Smiling Mind have great free guides available to start a mindfulness meditation program. The research is in, as you increase your ability to be mindful, you increase your ability to let go of stress and anxiety.
Controlled breathing also known as mindful breathing, is a simple way to destress, declutter your mind, and shift your focus.
- Get a jump on education and free courses
There’s no better time to catch up on study or learn a new skill. We advise that this is a great time to learn and engage in sport psychology skills training and or mental strength training. Learn more here athleteiq.com.au. Additionally, ensure that your study plans, timetable, and options are clear and manageable and have been thought through. Also, consider that these are the best fit for you currently.
- Have an attitude of gratitude
To lessen worry and anxiety – practice being grateful. Gratitude is simply about allowing the feeling and expressing appreciation: for all we’ve received, all that we have (however little it may be), and for all that has not ensued us.
Gratefulness serves us in many and varied ways. Principally, its functions as an antidote for attachment to what we want but don’t have. This is important. It redirects us and acts as an aversion to what we have but don’t want. Having gratitude is vital for mental health. It acts as a vehicle to diffuse feelings of self-pity and self-centeredness. It also increases feelings of well-being, helping is with mood and it prompts mindful awareness to things around us.
‘Gratitude is the opposite of being discontented’ Ram Dass. Take the time to put your life and situation into context and see that it’s valuable to be self-aware that nearly all experiences have both “positive” and “negative” aspects. Within this pandemic, there is an opportunity for growth. So have the mindset that even circumstances that are non-ideal whether it be brutally physical and/or emotionally painful, often enable psycho-spiritual benedictions through the forms of growth, healing, and learning.
Occasionally, we may have to work harder to locate the blessing and really understand and appreciate the positive and to uncover its gifts. This process is different for everyone and occasionally these only manifests in hindsight. However, if we can consciously shift our mindset and make the space to invest time and energy to look at how we can grow and make the most of any situation.
So the takeaway is that there is always something to be grateful for, no matter how helpless, negative, or desperate things are. If you face the reality and practice gratitude, it will help you make changes in perspective— such as assisting you in sweeping away most of the petty, non-important day-to-day annoyances, that add additional stress for no reason. It’s normal to focus on the negative and to focus so much of our attention on the “small stuff”.
But these situations act as an opportunity to shift mindset and behavioural patterns that normally bring up feelings of impatience, intolerance, negative judgment, indignation, anger, or resentment. As sport is part of your identity, you will experience a variety of emotions at this time this is understandable. By using gratitude, you can keep things in perspective. You can pay attention to the things that matter most and that you can focus on developing a useful strategy at any time to be thankful for the power of now.
- Seek additional help if you need it
Anxiety levels will fluctuate over COVID-19, and that is completely normal. Nevertheless, if your anxiety or stress continues to acutely impact on everyday life and you feel it is debilitating, and importantly, these strategies above have not worked, then a trained mental health professional may be able to help. In consideration, you may wish to contact our Player Welfare Manager Giusi Silvestri here at athleteiq
We aim to enable, empower and educate the athlete. Our Consultations can be done virtually, anytime, anywhere.