Dr Claudia Reardon is a sports psychiatrist who works at the University of Wisconsin with athletes from multiple sports and is part of the IOC Mental Health Working Group. She spoke to Athlete365 about how athletes around the globe can cope with the current situation surrounding the coronavirus.
- This is a very tough time for everyone. As an athlete, it’s normal to feel some degree of anxiety too.
- The new dates for the Olympic Games have been set, so now is the time to focus on controlling what you can.
- Staying positive is the most important thing you can do, both for yourself and for others.
It may come across quite strongly, but one word I would use to describe what some athletes are going through right now is grief. We’re talking about the loss of the Olympics and other major sport competitions. However temporary that loss may be, it’s still significant.
You’re experiencing a loss – so reach out
With any type of grief, talking things out is helpful. You should talk to a trusted friend, family member or mentor, which can be more therapeutic than you might think. Similarly, some of you may find that writing down your feelings can help, or even expressing them through art, music or prayer.
We’re lucky to live in a day and age where we have a lot of technology and virtual options to connect with people. Humans thrive on connection, and so it’s vital to stay in touch. You can organise virtual coffee breaks or even training sessions via video to motivate your fellow athletes!
Control the controllable
This is common advice, and it’s not meant to understate the situation, but rather get you to focus on controlling what you can. You are in control of whether you get out of bed in the morning, whether you do some work–outs at home. The alternative is to stay in bed and succumb to the uncertainty of the moment, which is not the best approach for sure.
Don’t forget, you as an athlete have so many strengths that are conducive to dealing with these circumstances. You cannot control or predict what the weather is going to be like during competition, or how your opponents will perform, or how the fans or media will react. If you can deal with those areas of uncertainty before, you certainly have the mental flexibility to deal with these new challenges.
Train yourself to maintain a positive outlook
Maintaining a positive outlook is a huge part of things. One important point, though, is that you don’t have to give an artificial message of optimism, and pretend that nothing is wrong and that you’re not anxious, because that might not be true. If it’s the case, share the realistic dual message of “I am continuing to be forward-thinking, and this can be a stressful and anxiety-provoking situation, but that’s okay.”
In terms of looking forward, concrete goals and timelines tend to work very well. Ask yourself where you want to be by the time of the next major competition, and what you need to accomplish between now and then. Making a timeline of those steps might be different than usual, but maintaining a goal-oriented, positive focus is huge. As an athlete, you are used to working towards goals and know how much of a positive tool they can be for motivation.
For more expert advice on dealing with the current climate, Team NL sports psychologist Paul Wylleman has six tips which will come in handy.