My Tips on How to Manage Mental Health as an Athlete
Being an athlete is hard–and not just because working out is generally terrible, even though that doesn’t make anything better. Athletes are expected to practice their sport numerous hours of the day, be an exceptional student, eat right, take care of their body, keep up with their personal relationships with friends and family, get 8 hours of sleep, and perform well, all within a day's work. Everyday it feels like there are not enough hours in the day to do it all. I personally like to call this constant cycle the “student-athlete simulation” because sometimes I feel like I live the same day over and over again. As athletes, we are held to this standard that we are meant to be mentally strong, and that we are to be sharp and able to overcome any obstacle to beat the fiercest opponent, but sometimes, the hardest opponent for athletes is – their own mental health.
Being an athlete myself, I have struggled with my mental health for as long as I could remember, but throughout the years, I kept it to myself because I thought it made me weak—something I couldn’t be. It was not until I started having real, authentic conversations with my teammates that they too had been struggling with the same issues. And that was when I started to prioritize my mental health and putting myself first. So, here are my tips on how I manage my mental health every day:
- Recognize and acknowledge what you are feeling. Never think that you are unable to give 100% that day. If you are not feeling your best, what you can give that day IS your 100%. Your 100% may look different everyday, and that is OKAY. It is NORMAL.
- Talk to someone. It may sound cliche, but it’s true. Find someone who you trust, and have a conversation about how you are feeling and what you are going through. You are not weak for talking to someone about your mental health. This person could be a coach, a teammate, a therapist, a family member, or just someone you trust. It is better to talk through things, rather than bottling it all up.
- Recognize your personal triggers. This one is a hard one, because sometimes you can’t escape certain triggers or situations on a day to day basis. But, the first step to overcoming your triggers, is by learning what they are, and how you can cope with them when they happen. There is no trigger too big or too small, because they differ amongst every athlete. And that is OKAY. Your triggers are VALID.
- Take the day off. As athletes, we are structured to view “days off” as signs of weakness, but taking days off are essential in order to perform to your best ability. If you feel like you need the day off, for your body or mind, TAKE THE DAY OFF and reset. I promise you will not lose your skill or fitness level in a day's time. It will better you immensely if you take the days off that you feel you need to.
- Find your coping strategies. When you choose to take the day off, don’t just do nothing all day. Use your day off to do things that make you feel happy outside of your sport. Your identity is not solely reliant on your athletic ability or sport. Find things outside of your sport that make you feel happy and that can reset you mentally. For me, I like to take walks outside, paint, journal, and talk to friends.
Although these may sound very basic and straightforward, it took me a long time as an athlete to accept that I need to prioritize my own mental health first above everything else. By following these five simple steps, I have been happier and have been playing soccer the best I ever have! So let's break the stigma that athletes don’t have mental health issues, and let’s bring awareness that athletes are people too. It’s time to put ourselves first!