Mental health relating to sports use to primarily get sweeped under the rug. Many past athletes and current athletes still to this day have had to suffer in silence regarding what they may be feeling and going through. The stigma and the conversation is starting to shift, thanks to various professional athletes such as Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, who are pushing for greater transparency and openness in the full athletic experience.
This Mental Health Week 2021, we wanted to do our part and shine light on this topic. Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the leader of this movement, which is in its 70th year, and the theme of the year is to #GetReal about our feelings. We should be labelling how we feel instead of minimizing it or totally disregarding it. We all feel something in every given moment, and it’s not always positive, but that’s perfectly fine. Good mental health isn't about being happy all the time, but rather being able to authentically experience the various human emotions that life has to offer. One of the best ways to quiet and deal with these emotions is to shine a light on them and give them a voice. Take the initiative of recognizing what you’re feeling instead of bottling it up, doing the latter will have a detrimental effect down the line.
Athletes are typically portrayed and thought of to be physically fit, active and healthy. This view of almost being superhuman athletes takes its toll behind closed doors. Athletes know who to go to when it comes to physical injuries, they’ll go seek help right away and get on the road to recovery. Mental injuries, have a greater subtle effect, one where they may not know where to go or think they can just overcome it on their own because they have to remain to be seen as strong and tough.
"Mental Health isn't just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn't have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing."
- Kevin Love via The Players' Tribune
A study showed that 35% of athletes will suffer from various mental health crises. From our experience you don’t get to pick and choose when these crises affect you. They take many different shapes and forms, thus affecting people in various different ways and when least expected. Athletes throughout their career may experience many different issues such as performance anxiety, body dysmorphia, imposter syndrome, and depression, to name a few. Athletes today need increased resources and outlets to help them, in a way that they can be proud of the help they got and the positive effect it had on them. The key thing to know for athletes is that you are not alone, there is no need to suffer in silence. These are normal problems that we face, and the help is there. Seeking help is a sign of strength and courage.
To help, we reached out to 11 exceptional individuals who were stand out athletes and are professionals in their field, to put together a list of tips that they use to take care of their mental health and stay mentally sharp. These tips they provided are personal to them and something you can adopt to see what sticks with you. We appreciate them taking the time to contribute to this list for our audience. It’s important to know that these are not only specific to the realm of sports, but beneficial to any area of your life.
1. Finding time to take mental breaks is very key. I try to stop and do mental imagery, breathing techniques and meditation as frequently as I can. The app I use a lot is Meditopia. I use this to meditate. It's a guided meditation that helps work on breathing and mental healing.
2. I like to go for walks regularly and also taking the first part of my day to stretch when I get up. From a stress reducing standpoint creating daily to do list.
3. Not every game/practice may go your way however after it is done try and not think about it until the next day. Allow yourself to take some time away from it and then attack it and determine where you went wrong the next day.
4. Everyday I take time to do something I love/I am good at. I find this just mentally puts you in a good headspace. You always have to fill your own cup first before you can give to others!
- Sofia Paska, Professional basketball player & fitness advocate
5. Embrace the process while you’re going through it. Your life plan is what is happening, not what you planned. Embrace the losses with the victories and keep running. It’s a marathon so keep chasing.
6. Daily abundance meditation for 30 mins, I also do my best to read at least an hour a day. 30 mins before I sleep and 30 mins when I wake up because it gives me balance and a good mind set for the day.
7. Know what makes me feel good, and DO IT! Making time to exercise, spend time in nature, or speak to my family is key to keeping my emotional tank full to deal with daily stressors and pressure.
8. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail" This is probably the phrase that I use most with my players. During the pandemic it's essential that you set goals. Both short and long term goals will provide clarity during this time of uncertainty. More than just goals is establishing an action plan along with your goals. Now that you have your goals and action plan, it's time for you to plan a schedule for the month. Use your device and set notifications to remind you of important activities and school project deadlines.
9. Just accepting that it is okay to not be okay, but learning to not dwell within that space. With time, you learn how to better understand yourself and not let negative circumstances consume you. The same way we leave it all on the court, you have to come with that same energy when it comes to making positive strides with our mental health.
10. I always keep the people I’m doing this for in mind. My mother and my sisters are my why. When I’m at the free throw line is a perfect moment to gather my thoughts and refocus my breath, I often think about my mothers hand squeezing mine or a childhood song and it helps me calm down.
11. Talk about how you feel - try to find/form relationships with people that get to the point that you feel comfortable enough to talk to them about your problems, worries, etc. It’s always easier handling issues when you have a good support system and people to talk to rather than alone!
- Check out our visuals for these tips on our Instagram here.
- Let us know below in the comments which tip you are going to use or which one you already do.