As an active person, being stuck at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak could be taking a toll on your mental health with gyms and parks shut, no access to proper training and equipment.
Sports psychologists warn that prolonged isolation may have a major impact on mental health of athletes, whose mental strength and self-esteem are intrinsically linked to their physical prowess.
Being a creature of habit you are not used to suddenly being confined in one place. So, if you feel the negativity and doubts rising in this time of uncertainty, remember that you are not alone. It is natural to have these fears and anxiety about the future.
Divya Jain, head of psychological services for the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis saw an uptick in the number of athletes who have complained about frustration. With no clear end goal, a lack of motivation has crept into a few of them. Their issues range from sleeplessness, loneliness, lack of motivation, frustration and anxiety.
Elite athletes suffer from depression at a rate very similar to the general population, which are generally in the range of 4-68%. But the stigma around mental health in sports culture can make it difficult to recognise the signs early on or even reach out for help.
A recent study revealed about one out of six international track and field athletes reported having experienced suicidal ideation. Top athletes possess exceptional drive, talent and the ability to perform under relentless pressure but they are no less vulnerable to mental health problems.
COVID-19 has been anything but predictable. Getting out of a routine and trying to work figure out how to use your free time is a struggle many fitness enthusiast and athletes are facing.
Now more than ever, you will need to appreciate the distinction between your sporting goals (what you want to achieve) and your purpose (why you started your journey).
Despite all the negative headlines, the good news is that the virus can’t infect your drive to continue your training and fitness goals.
Ways to address mental health and stay motivated
To get through these unchartered waters, it’s important to remember that you as an athlete are no stranger to adversity. You thrive in it. This pandemic has evened the playing field as athletes around the world are on the same team in a competition that is far bigger than any sport.
Here’s our advice:
Acceptance could be the key to fighting this mental battle.
Once you accept that this is what it is, then you can divert your attention and energies towards limiting the amount of deconditioning that happens so that you can get back faster when this is all over.
It’s important to keep in mind that your situation is not an isolated incident, you are not falling behind on your training or health. The entire world and all the athletes are in this together.
This acceptance can free up the mind to make space on looking for the solutions rather than being frustrated about the problems.
Don’t be afraid of acknowledging your feelings.
The “be positive” approach causes us to deny the natural vulnerability and sadness that might hinder us from processing our emotions in a healthy manner.
The acceptance of the uncertainty helps create a conducive environment to deal with the mental anguish you might be facing right now.
Focus on the things that you can control
Eating, sleeping, staying connected, having a purpose, thinking ahead and self care. These are the basics that are under your control to get you through one day at a time.
Exercising or training whenever possible, maintaining an effective sleep cycle and good nutrition.
Research suggests that there is a significant relationship between nutrition quality and mental health.
For active individuals a marginal deficiency in the nutrients may impact the body’s ability to repair itself, operate efficiently and fight disease.
So, for athletes who restrict calories or limit food groups may have an increased chance of vitamin and mineral deficiency and thus, making them a vulnerable group of the society.
B-vitamins are particularly important to athletes because they play a role in many metabolic processes that are directly related to exercise performance, including energy production, red-blood-cell formation and muscle building/repair.
Most notably, B-vitamins – especially thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6—are used to convert the foods we eat into energy our bodies can use during exercise. Therefore, adequate intake of the B vitamins is important to ensure optimum energy production and recovery.
Vitamin B12, perhaps the most well-known of all the B vitamins and the one that many of us are deficient in, is vital for neurological function, DNA production and red blood cell development.
Folate and vitamin B12, together, are required for the synthesis of red blood cells and the repair of damaged muscle cells. Deficiency of these two have also been linked to increased risk of depression.
Additionally, B-complex vitamin supplements may help improve symptoms of depression or anxiety. Several studies suggest that B-complex supplements may relieve stress, boost cognitive performance and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, even in people without B vitamin deficiencies.
Although the B-vitamins are in whole and enriched grains, dark green vegetables, nuts, and many animal and dairy products; Research suggests athletes and individuals with poor or restricted diets should consider taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement.
We recommend Unived’s Vitamin B Complex, an organic, plant-based, vegan Vitamin B-Complex supplement featuring all 8 essential B-vitamins, as well as Unived’s Vitamin B-12-veg, formulated with the active form of Vitamin B12, Methylcobalamin along with 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (folate), which is the most biologically active form of folic acid.
Another nutrient that plays a key role in maintenance of mental health is Omega-3 DHA, which is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in brain cell membranes.
Omega-3 DHA is essential for the growth and development of the central nervous system during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood; therefore, a sufficient dietary supply of these compounds is essential for normal brain development.
It also plays an important role in the maintenance of the optimal functioning of the adult brain. Approximately 30% of the lipid fraction of the gray matter in the adult brain is made up of DHA.
Studies show it plays a key role in functioning of the brain, with dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids being associated with an increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism.
Thus, Unived’s Ovegha, a vegan Omega-3 DHA plant-based & natural supplement will help you address your lack of omega-3 DHA dietary intake.
Reach out for help
Remember that you are not alone. You may not want to burden your family and friends, but reaching out can be a big help to you and those who love you.
You might also feel for the friends whose businesses are being shut and finances are uncertain. In these times you might experience a lot of emotions like guilt (for even thinking about sports and exercise), to sadness, fear or comfort. Friends may try to find ways to bring laughter in these difficult times. Allow it.
You can’t always overcome mental health problems on our own. You can take one step to reach out for support. Sport teaches us to choose our path, the healthy path follows forward thinking: continuing to train and maintaining goals, while making use of available support and trusting that opportunity will still come.
You should consult medical health professionals if the situation is beyond your control. They can help improve your overall well-being and overall performance. Sports psychology or mental health should be looked at as a preventive measure.
If your sleep pattern is disturbed or if you are getting negative thoughts, feeling anxious, unable to control binge-eat episodes and consuming a lot of sweets — then please consult a mental health specialist.
In these times when the motivation level is at its lowest, sports psychologists recommend that athletes should avoid things that could push them towards negativity.
Avoid going on social media and news channels to keep track of every single headline. Binge watching and obsessing over news could be counter productive to your mental well-being. Self-discipline in this case is essential.
It’s important to also keep away from the social media created peer pressure of keeping in shape. As you watch other athletes workout at home, you could subconsciously be taking the pressure of that.
Remember that negative thoughts are not reality. They are just thoughts. But anxiety is very real hence self-care is essential.
Athletes are built to overcome challenges
Athletes are often prepared for uncertainty or events that are uncontrollable or unpredictable.
The adversity tolerance, resilience and mental toughness are qualities that you can tap into when facing this uncertainty.
Athletes all around the world are in the same boat, with positive messages of support and solidarity, a robust global network of shared ideas and experience means that even in isolation, you don’t have to be alone.
An elite athlete often resorts to one ball at a time or one session at a time or one point at a time or one game or match at a time, depending on the discipline. It helps an athlete think of a small thing and stay in the present.
So, if you find yourself succumbing to thoughts of the future, about three weeks or five weeks of the lockdown, you will start feeling anxious. Instead, if you break it down and concentrate on one day at a time, you may avoid stress and be relaxed.
Map out a plan
You can develop training regimens and daily exercise routines that work around your new normal. This is a good time to reflect, to regroup and re-calibrate your goals.
Tennis legend Roger Federer shared with his fans with a video of himself practising trick-shots against an outdoor wall as it snowed at his Switzerland home.
Many other athletes are also sharing on social media innovative ways to cope during the lockdown, converting garages and bedrooms into gyms andtheir kids.
Using household items and indoor spaces for other physical activities and games can help occupy your chatter-filled mind, cut through the boredom of being quarantined, keep awareness in the present moment, create a shared adventure, and challenge yourself to improve in some way.
Maintain a routine
The free time may not be conducive to help with minimising exposure to social media. But psychologists suggest that athletes should maintain a routine to keep themselves busy and positive.
You could follow the same routine that you had before the lockdown, like waking up and sleeping at the same time as before.
Exercising or training at the same time, in proper workout gear rather than casual wear to create the seriousness in the environment.
Athletes tend to be more disciplined about their habits or body clock, like following a sleep pattern or haves and have-nots when it comes to diet.
Self-discipline has to be applied even in the current situation.
Being at home does not give you a free pass to eat anything any time or sleep at odd hours. It’s critical to form and maintain a routine so that mental state remains focused and positive.
Set simple, tangible goals. Have a goal with your sleep pattern, or maintaining your weight or doing fitness activities based on your personal targets.
These goals will hold you in a positive frame of mind.
At the heart of it, remember why you play sports—to connect to something inside you that is curious and adventurous, the rush of excitement and a sense of being alive.
Mental health available resources
Many mental health resources are in place.
The Sports Authority of India, on its Facebook page and other social media, have hosted a number of events with respect to ensuring the mental well-being of the community at large.
- ‘Mindfulness meditation’, a yoga programme, was followed by ‘health and nutrition during lockdown’ and ‘coping in the time of crisis (sports psychology)’ on April 8.
- On April 9, there was a session labelled ‘5 practices for emotional health’. A day later, athletes were given a 101 on ‘using home props for workout’.
- April 11 saw ‘fight the indoor blues with this vinyasa flow’, a family fitness session by yoga specialist Bhumika Uniyal.