While it is completely normal to feel anxious before an important game, stressed about your contract situation or worried about a long-term injury, elevated levels of stress can lead to a deterioration in mental health and also negatively affect performance. As an athlete, it is important to discover ways to cope with and reduce the amount of pressure you feel.
Even though there are likely to be some things happening in your life that you cannot control, such as injuries and match results, there are still lots of practical things you can do to manage the amount of pressure you are under day to day.
Here are some things you can do to help, recommended by the mental health charity, Mind.
Identify your triggers
Working out what triggers stress for you can help you anticipate problems and think of ways to solve them. Even if you cannot avoid these situations, being prepared can help.
Take some time to reflect on events and feelings that could be contributing to your stress (you might want to do this with a friend or family member).
You could consider:
• issues that come up regularly and that you worry about
• one-off events that are on your mind a lot
• ongoing stressful events
You might be surprised to find out just how much you are coping with at once. Remember that not having enough work, activities or change in your life can be just as stressful a situation as having too much to deal with.
Organise your time
Adjusting the way that you organise your time could help you feel more in control of any tasks you are facing, and more able to manage pressure.
• Identify your best time of day and do the important tasks that need the most energy and concentration at that time. For example, you might be a morning person or an evening person.
• Make a list of things you have to do. Arrange them in order of importance and try to focus on the most urgent first. If your tasks are football-related, ask your manager to help you prioritise, or if they are education-related speak to your tutor or Head of Education. You may be able to push back some tasks until you are feeling less stressed.
• Vary your activities. Balance interesting tasks with more mundane ones, and stressful tasks with those you find easier or can do more calmly.
• Try not to do too much at once. If you take on too much, you might find it harder to do any individual task well. This can make you feel like you have even more pressure on you.
• Take breaks and take things slowly. It might be difficult to do this when you are stressed, but it can make you more productive.
“I try and reassure myself by breaking things down into small achievable tasks.”
Address some of the causes of stress
Although there will be things in your life that you cannot do anything about, there might still be some practical ways you could resolve or improve some of the issues that are putting pressure on you. You might find it helpful to read some of Mind’s booklets on issues around mental health, family and personal life, work-life, student life, finances, housing and legal rights. All of Mind’s resources are freely available here.
Accept the things you cannot change
It is not easy but accepting that there are some things happening to you that you cannot do anything about will help you focus your time and energy more productively.
“Sometimes I take a minute to ‘reply’ to my stressy thoughts… it is hard to be stressed when you have things in perspective! The majority of the things I worry about are either things I cannot change or things which are not earth-shatteringly important.”