No more "faking it until you make it"... It actually does mental health damage.
“For the longest time, I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness because that’s kind of what society teaches us. That’s especially true from an athlete’s perspective. If we ask for help, then we’re not this big macho athlete that people can look up to. Well, you know what? If someone wants to call me weak for asking for help, that’s their problem. Because I’m saving my own life.” – Michael Phelps
As Athletes we go through a very tough mental struggle with finding our identity and creating true self-confidence which in return creates better self-esteem. This is due to the grind of competing on and off the field in so many ways. We compete on the field to be strong, tough and successful; then, off the field to be macho, attractive and poised. We do this because we don't want to seem weak or vulnerable to other athletes or anyone at that, as it may give them an upper hand in competition or feel we're "soft". But really, its because our ego gets hurt if we don't maintain that persona of being a macho athlete, and all the benefits that come with it. Like popularity, status and peer acceptance. However, it also has consequences that affect emotional stability from going through the routine as if everything is "fine".
This "fake it until you make it" mentality, may create some results in our sport, but first hand I can tell you it affects our self-esteem much more than we realize. We begin to act as something we're not just to create results, it starts to affect our personality for the worse. We become more irritated, aggressive, and overall emotionally unstable. This then creates mental health issues such as anxiety or depression because 1, we are not being true to ourselves about who we are unless the results happen so we get more anxious for good results to happen; and 2, when the results don't happen we get depressed because we are only result based, that's why we're "faking it" in the first place... so then it becomes a vicious cycle of ups and downs, until the weight becomes unbearable or tiring. As well, adding the added pressure from parents, coaches and peers, makes it feel as if we can't get out of that cycle even if we wanted to...
Unfortunately, this is the sad truth for A LOT of athletes including myself. I went through this same struggle because I just thought it was apart of being an athlete... WRONG. It was an incorrect way that we get taught by coaches in order to perform better and try to be mentally stronger. But, if we are "faking it" what happens when we reach competition that isn't? They will out perform us and always be more consistent, because their emotional stability and mental psyche are more in tune with one another. Therefore, athletes need to be comfortable in their own skin and understand we DO NOT have to be "fake" in order to create instant results. Having fun and enjoying the process will ultimately make the journey and overall athletics experience much better and definitely more successful. If our mind is not in a great place, our body can not perform to its maximum potential.
So positive mental health is important for everyone, and should not be overlooked by athletes, who on the outside seem to have it all figured out, and probably look VERY confident and happy. But inside that could be a completely different story. Athletes are amazing at creating a bubble around themselves and protecting their deep emotions and thoughts, but often this can build up and add to the strenuous lifestyle of training and competing, and eventually the mind can't take all that stress no more. Sports are consistently tapping into the sympathetic nervous system which is our "fight or flight" mode. When we consistently are in this nervous system, it is hard for our body to properly rest and repair. This means our brain can sometimes become dehydrated or lacking nutrients because the expenditure and needs of athletes is much higher than the average person. And in return this can create hormone imbalance that create mood and thought swings. Nothing external may of triggered these events, just lacking certain vital necessities changes our brain chemistry.
So understanding the balance of how much stress is good vs bad and what is helpful for growth in training is CRUCIAL for staying physically and mentally healthy. The mental capacity is always being pushed to the limit for many athletes, and this makes mental health issues an even higher risk potential. Good or bad stress is still stress... and if other issues are going on while your stressing your body out, it can become even more difficult to deal with issues. Sometimes taking a break from training for a few weeks and getting the mind back in the right place, is more beneficial for training in the long run than trying to push through the issue and ignore it. You can never run away from yourself, and the body follows the mind, so if we want to function at our best, than our mindset and mental health need to be in tune and healthy.
If people were to know the alarming number of "successful" athletes have committed suicide to date, it should create MUCH more importance of the NEED for awareness in the sports community... We need need to think about the next generations of athletes to follow, and if we don't address this issue NOW, it will become an even more catastrophic issue in the near future. As competition gets better and more inflated, the opportunities get smaller and smaller, this will create more kids who have to fail, and may go to EXTREME lengths to make their "dreams" come true, and if they lose sense of reality or time along the way, it will create a "sports psychosis" that leads to unfortunate events.
When we have fun, and enjoy the moment, we don't have to fake anything, and everything we worked on will get a real chance to shine. Many athletes forget along the journey that they played their best when they were having fun.... right? So, why do we get so serious as we get older? Probably because winning begins to mean more, and results are important for what level and team you play for. Society shows affection for good athletes, so people strive for praise and glory. Plus, adding in more and more practice creates a sense of desired attachment to that sport. When we become driven for a goal, many people including myself will get serious and sometimes too serious... And when we take life too serious, it's going to make things harder and harder on ourselves. This is because we over sweat the small things, and over analyze everything in the process. This constantly makes a negative mindset. Which creates an unhealthy self-talk towards ourselves when we fail or come up short in performances.
Ultimately hurting our mental health and slowly creating a problem that we don't even know is brewing, The most important aspect of being an athlete is balance... balance of relaxation, stress, time, energy, rest, nutrition, entertainment. If any of these are not kept within healthy limits, then everything else will suffer, and overall begin to affect much more than we realize. If we over train we hurt our complete body, if we undertrained we hurt our complete performance. It's important to stay healthy as an athlete, and even though we have the work ethics to train non-stop, it's unhealthy and will lead to backward progress instead of forward. There is MUCH more to sports than physical capabilities. Athletes with half the talent but a consistent healthy strong mindset, will typically have more success in their careers. Therefore, keeping a work/play/rest balance in check is necessity for longevity of a career.
So in hope of helping others stay positive in health and mindset, I'm going to give you the best 12 tips from my experiences and knowledge along the journey...
12 Tips for Athletes to Improve Mental Health
1) Maintain a routine
A good routine allows us to consistently balance work and play in order to maximize time & efficiency. As well, it helps create better habits for the long run as it is a part of behavioral change. If you want to be successful, having a smooth and enjoyable routine will be key in athletics longevity and happiness.
2) Have Patience
Nothing great comes over night... so changing the mindset from what you want right now, to what you have right now, will help ease anxiety and uncertainty of what's to come. Just enjoy the process and present moment as much as possible, and eventually hard work and persistence will create the desired results. Takes time to really be successful.
3) Live for the moment, not the destination
When going through our athletics careers, we are typically always on the go, and consistently training/competing/resting, So it creates a distortion of time. But, if we don't enjoy the journey as we're living it, years can feel like they flew by in months. The experiences from the journey are life changing, so don't rush it and enjoy every day like it could be your last!
4) Listen to your body
Training is of course a huge part of becoming a great athlete, but rest is too. Learn to listen to your body more, compared to what a piece of paper or program tells you. Consistent adjustments should be on going to ensure not over or under training. If you're always on the gas, eventually you will burn out or get hurt. If you under train, then your performances will be hindered and not up to what you know is possible.
5) Laugh at yourself
Why so serious? We need to have a sense of humor, without it, life will become pretty rigorous and consistently based on results instead of experience. If we aren't having fun, why are you playing? This doesn't mean lose focus on the tasks, but know its not the end of the world if you fail or top of the world if you succeed. Just take results with a grain of salt and enjoy the competition. I guarantee when you were young winning was important but fun was more important. A happy and relaxed athlete will always perform better. For example, Usain Bolt ,Even up until his race he's still able to laugh with the crowd and block crew. Showing you its about your mindset once the race announcers says go.
6) See failure as an opportunity, not your enemy
We often see great athletes talk about how much failure they've gone through, but when it happens to many of us, it's not always that easy to except. But, seeing that failure is an opportunity to improve and perform better in the long run, makes sense to view it as a growing tool. We are all going to fail, and especially in sports, but those who know how to fail and get back up stronger or smarter are always going to be the beat athletes. Being willing to fail is what separates the. good from the great, because they have no fear of failure. Masters of any craft have typically failed more than most people have even done something. Keep pushing and making adjustments everyday.
7) Take periodic breaks
Often as hyper focused individuals we get lost in the process and sometimes overreach when unnecessary. This leads to burn out or mental fatigue. Just like going to a 9-5 job, they have to give you so many breaks to give your mind a rest from the tasks. Same applies to our athletic training. Of course depending on what sport you play, a break may be every few minutes, or every few hours. But find what is a happy medium that helps keep a healthy balance. Rome wasn't built in a day, so don't expect your skills will develop from one insane training session. Progressive overload and consistency are what create results.
8) Listen to your favorite music everyday
Music is a powerful tool that can connect our emotions to actions at any moment. The right song at the right time makes the experience amazing. But as well, keeping your mind in a positive space with upbeat or motivating music can go a long way in maintaining drive or push to train or perform our best.
10) Read books that give new perspectives & wisdom
Books are a great tool in developing our mindset and skills because they can open our mind to a new approach or method for achieving success. The more knowledge we can soak in, the better we can respond to real life situations as they arise. Knowledge is power, so be open to learning from peoples experiences or opinions and see if they correlate with yours. What ever your interests are or area of improvements may be, dive into books that can help create better perspectives of life and sports.
11) Eat Healthy
Nutrition is a vital pillar of performance and healthy life. Ensuring we are getting our macro and micro nutrients is going to play a factor in physical and mental capacities. When we take care of our nutrition we create better brain chemistry and Gut health, that all lead to a stronger and healthier mind. When those are functioning to their best ability, everything else will function better accordingly. So we are what we eat, and if you don't fuel yourself with the proper nutrients, then your body could be at risk of having a lower immune system and create issues like brain fog or lack of energy. Ask any athlete about their nutrition and they take it pretty serious.
12) Have fun
At the end of the day this is what sports and life are supposed to be about, having as much fun as we can with reason, to ensure our experiences are memorable and enjoyable. If you choose sports only for money... Like anything else it will become tiresome and absolutely no fun. All because our values are focused on the wrong thing. If we do anything for ONLY money, it makes the process even more of a grind because we are not enjoying it along the way. Sports are VERY difficult when doing them as a job instead of a passion, because many athletes live for that sport, and will out work and perform you since they truly enjoy it. So have fun and enjoy everyday that you're fortunate enough to still be playing your sport. One day we all have to hang it up, and what do you want your memories of the journey to be...
As athletes were have a completely different lifestyle and routine than most people, but nonetheless we are humans and just as vulnerable as anyone else. Sometimes even more vulnerable because we stress our bodies extra in order to improve. This consistent pursuit of athletics is a grind, and we need to remember our mental health is just as important as our training program.
Mental health as a whole is increasing more and more each year. So we need to be more aware and create advocacy for this health issue. Majority of mild cases are developed from simple imbalances from either conditioning & or lifestyle choices that lead to imbalances in brain chemistry. Both have their variables of what leads to them becoming an issue. But, of course something is out of balance or lacking thereof. Plus, Athletes have added stress and strain on the body, which lowers the immune system at times. So, we have to be very cautious of how much strain we put on ourselves in the pursuit of maximum performance. Our mind and physical body need to be pushed for growth, but know your limit and work within it. Over reaching will lead to burn out and potentially injury or mental health issues. Smile, have fun, enjoy here and now.
Stay Strong...Stay Healthy...Stay Consistent & Keep Developing yourself