There’s no ignoring it any longer: this situation is unprecedented in our lifetime, and we have to face the reality of full-blown social distancing. Humans are a highly social species, and isolation can have significant repercussions on our wellbeing - social isolation and mental health problems go hand in hand.
As an athlete or sportsperson, it’s likely your carefully planned race or competition schedule for this year is now a distant memory - and with no firm end-date for COVID-19, the uncertainty can make it even harder to stay motivated and focussed.
However, there are ways we can all use this period of social isolation to our advantage and come out the other end fitter, stronger and more resilient than ever.
As a sport psychologist - I’m normally found working with athletes and coaches - improving their focus, motivation, confidence and mental toughness. However, the concepts of psychology extend outside of the sporting arena - and can be applied to help us thrive, not just survive throughout this global pandemic.
I’d like to share with you my five top tips for you to maintain your mental health, enhance your training and ultimately benefit from the experience:
Your attention is your most precious resource, so use it wisely. Try shifting your mindset on COVID-19 and turn what at first can appear to be a THREAT into a CHALLENGE. This will have significant positive consequences - on both mood and well-being. At the moment, we are still allowed to get outside – so whether it’s just a simple walk, sea-swim, bike ride or even time with your horse, we have many options to continue our training! If you can’t access a gym, think about what you could do at home or with just your bodyweight for your strength and conditioning sessions. Get creative and you’ll be surprised as to how much you can continue to do. If you decide to look at the situation in a positive way – you’ll find you enjoy this time a lot more.
According to a meta-analysis conducted in in 2011, exercising outdoors came with a slew of benefits. The participants self-reported enhanced mental well-being immediately following exercise in the natural environment, as opposed to those who exercised indoors. Participants reported feelings of revitalisation, decreased anger, and increased energy. Another recent study (Ryan et al., 2019) found that being outside has a significant positive effect on vitality, or your sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy. With Spring now firmly here, there’s no better place to be than the great outdoors.
Structure your time wisely, and create a focussed plan for your sessions whilst socially isolating. If you’re a triathlete and lucky enough to live by the sea, don the wetsuit and start with some short cold water acclimatisation sessions! Or if you don’t have access to open-water - why not find some gym sessions you can do at home specifically to help with your swimming? Make the most of the outdoor space you do have – could you throw down a mat in the garden and do a HIIT session? Creating a routine can be vital to help you feel in control and motivated. A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that morning exercise improves attention, visual learning, and decision-making so start your day with your workout and you’ll reap the rewards later on.
There are plenty of alternatives to traditional face-to-face sports coaching. Could you work with a coach online to keep you on-track? Or if you usually train in a group, consider setting up an exercise session online where you and your friends could train together at the same time. Be open-minded and ready to try new ways of working. This period of enforced ‘down-time’ could also be an opportunity to try something completely new. Perhaps there’s a sport or pastime you’ve always wanted to try, but never quite found the time with your usual busy training schedule? If there is, now is the perfect time to do it - embrace technology and jump in with two feet!
Did you know, only 18% of expertise in sport (Brook & McNamara, 2016) is attributed to the physical side of sport. This really highlights how there is so much more than just doing the physical training to becoming really good at what you do. Time away from the pressures of competition can actually be a great time to develop mental skills. With all sporting events cancelled, now is the time to work with a sport psychologist - focussing on areas such as self-belief, focus, mindset and confidence - to allow you to return to competition a stronger, more focussed and determined athlete than ever before.
Sarah is a sport and performance psychologist based in Brighton. She works with elite and amateur athletes alike on a one-to-one basis either online or by phone. Sarah offers results-driven individually-tailored sport psychology coaching, and as a GB age-group aquathlete, rower, ocean-swimmer and triathlete herself really understands the nuances of a variety of sports.
Get in touch HERE