9 Ways As An Athlete You Can Prioritize Your Mental Health
By: Marissa Morah | Timeout Copywriter, editor, and strategist
As athletes, we give ourselves to a sport day in and day out, and sometimes it’s hard to remember why mental health is important.
Mental health is important because it’s the key to living a healthy and happy life. Every person, including athletes, deserves to live a fulfilling life free of mental distress — and yes that includes if you had a bad game. Mental health affects all aspects of our lives: our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships with other people. It impacts how we think about ourselves and the world around us. This is why it’s essential that we are always taking a break to do things for ourselves because we are constantly giving to our sports, coaches, and teammates.
The team behind the Timeout App often has discussions about how to prioritize mental health as former and current athletes. Here is a list of ideas we came up with that we hope you find to be helpful when you are struggling to figure out what to do for yourself:
Yoga is a natural way to fight anxiety and heal your body both physically and mentally. It is not only a great way for you to improve flexibility and strength, but it also helps prevent injuries, improve concentration and body awareness, reduce stress levels, and more. It takes time to get into a yoga practice, so it really allows you to disconnect from reality and set into those poses while practicing your mental focus.
Many former athletes who are done with their careers or had to stop their careers short have found joy in the practice of yoga as well. For example, after suffering an injury in 2003 that led to the end of his career, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Keith Mitchell used yoga as an outlet to combat his suicidal thoughts and depression.
Let’s face it, as a student-athlete, you have plenty to read. We get that. However, diving into a great read allows you to unplug from reality for a bit and immerse yourself in a different world. In fact, data out there shows that reading for just six minutes a day can help with reducing stress, improving sleep, and actually sharpening mental focus.
Even if you don’t identify as a “reader” we encourage you to give it a try for even just those 6 minutes a day. See how you feel after you’ve disconnected for a short amount of time. You might be surprised to see that each day your sessions become just a little bit longer.
Cooking is both a skill and a hobby that many people find relaxing and it provides a sense of accomplishment as well. When it comes to mental health, counselors and mental health professionals are starting to recommend this as a decompression activity because it helps to soothe stress, build self-esteem and curb negative thinking by focusing the mind on following a recipe. In addition, cooking with someone you feel comfortable expressing yourself to might be a good idea as well, since sometimes it’s hard to just sit down and have a conversation.
As a student-athlete, especially if you are in college, you might not have access to a full-on kitchen. Maybe try meal prepping some healthy snacks for yourself throughout the week in your dorm or see if you can find kitchen space to use on campus.
Listening to Music
Listening to music can have a number of benefits for mental health. It can be therapeutic in many ways for any situation, whether you’ve experienced significant trauma, symptoms of depression and anxiety, or just simply are needing a break.
As athletes, we are no stranger to listening to music through our headphones on a bus on the way to competition or training. In fact, it’s probably part of your pre-competition or training routine. However, it’s helpful to listen to music as an escape when you aren’t actively participating in your sport. Even just laying in bed or going to visit a peaceful spot is a great way for you to process what’s happening and put yourself in a more relaxed state.
Going for a Run or Walk
Exercise in general helps relieve stress, build self-esteem, and keep you focused on the things you can control. Similar to cooking, running or taking a walk can help your mind process what it needs to while simultaneously doing another activity. Studies also show that it can improve your ability to absorb information, memory, and enhance your overall mood.
Walking or running can be helpful to destress from any situation, whether it’s a form of taking a study break, or needing to process your thoughts.
Taking a Bath or Shower
One way you as an athlete can prioritize your mental health is by taking a bath or shower. However, different temperatures of the water can have different benefits. A warm bath can create a sense of relaxation and reduce stress levels. In fact, when you enter warm environments such as a hot bath or a sauna, it causes a slowing of your heart rate. In response, your muscles relax and you may also find yourself having a clearer mind. If you are looking to get a little more energy or pep in your step, just turn the temperature to cooler water. You’ll find that your mind is a little sharper once you’re done and you are able to focus easier.
The good news is, you have to take care of your hygiene anyways right? So next time, why don’t you spend a few extra minutes relaxing instead of rushing to the next to-do on your list?
Spending Time in Nature
Let’s get real — we spend quite a lot of time staring at screens whether it’s for school, pleasure, watching film, etc. It’s hard to escape from. However, too much of that exposure and not getting enough breaks can actually contribute to enhancing some mental health issues. That’s why spending time in and looking at the beauty of nature can offset how much screen time we consume as a society.
Spending time outdoors has been shown to lower stress levels, boost moods, and help us think more clearly. This can look different for everyone such as going on a walk, hiking, going for a bike ride, and much more.
Loving on Animals
If you’re feeling lonely, spending time with animals is the best way to cure your feelings. In fact, professionals recommend loving on animals, as some of the benefits include lower blood pressure, reduced stress, increased feelings of support, and improved overall moods as they provide us with unconditional love and can help us heal when we need it most.
If you don’t have access to a pet yourself, volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great way to not only help yourself but serve your community as well.
Riding a Bike
The benefits of riding a bike are not limited to just physical health, although that is a perk too. Many people with depression and anxiety use cycling as a form of therapy. One study done by Cycleplan examined the health benefits people experienced after taking up cycling. They found that 75% of cyclists noticed an improvement in their mental health since getting on the saddle, with 8% even saying it helped with their depression or anxiety.
Taking it outdoors combines two ideas we discussed above as well — exercising and getting outside in nature! We encourage you to try indoor and outdoor biking for your next workout to see what mental benefits might come along with it.
Remember, these are just ways to prioritize yourself for maybe just a few minutes a day apart from your busy schedule. Mix it up often so that you can continue to treat yourself in new ways. Always remember that if it becomes too much and if you find that none of these are helping you, it’s always best to reach out to someone and get help. You are never alone in your battles.