Deal with anxiety  

As a two-time Olympic medallist and multiple European champion, Austrian backstroke swimmer Markus Rogan knows all about life as an elite athlete. Since retiring in 2012, he has become a successful sports psychologist and was director of performance psychology for Team Brazil at Rio 2016. Here, he advises you about thinking positively and overcoming anxiety in these testing times.  

  • Markus Rogan is an Olympic swimmer turned sports psychologist who specialises in dealing with anxietyand says that acknowledging your situation is key. 
  • Rationalising your thoughts can help you to focus on what is important. 
  • Follow Athlete365 for the latest COVID-19 updates and expert advice. 

 

Use anxiety to grow 

What’s important right now is to think of growth. We, as athletes, are always driven towards growth, and we sometimes forget that there is more than one way of growing.  

First, the one we’re used to: achieving something. You can get better at something, break a world record or win a national title, for instance. But the other ways of growing are important, too: one is in relationships with others, be it with your coach, a loved one or your family. I was often guilty of neglecting this during my career – we think those relationships are unimportant, that they’re really just peripheral characters and we are the main show.  

Of course, everyone’s going to be there for you when you’re amazing. It’s easy to surround yourself with people when you’re amazing, but maybe you can use this time now to explore relationships with those who are there with you when you’re down, or when you can’t have the glory of the Olympic Games. 

What’s important right now is to think of growth. We, as athletes, are always driven towards growth, and we sometimes forget that there is more than one way of growing.  

Recognise the situation 

If you’re an athlete right now, you’re probably wondering what’s going to happen next. That’s actually a really good question to ask yourself, because most of our lives as athletes we’re trained to do one thing and to do that thing really well, and now that has been delayed for a year. 

Many professional athletes in their 20s and early 30s have postponed the rest of their lives and it’s very scary when, all of a sudden, the one thing we’ve focused on is taken away. You will ask yourself questions like: “Do I have enough money? Do I have enough brainpower? Do I have enough ‘anything’ that will help me for the rest of my life?”  

Those are very normal, and I suggest you don’t run away from those questions but, instead, ask yourself: “Why am I asking myself this? Are these questions founded or am I making them up?” 

Rationalise your thoughts 

It’s not easy, but you need to have the courage to realise when you are feeling anxious, and then you can start working on it. Ignoring symptoms makes you unwell and facing them helps you to come alive. Anxiety about illness, your career or your training is a vital guidepost. If you’re anxious it means that your body and mind is telling you something important. 

The key thing is realising that your thoughts are just neurochemical signals and not truth. Consider it like observing a text message; when most of us get a text message we don’t assume that it is the ultimate truth coming through our phone. Don’t forget that even the most profound thought is still just a thought. 

What are the benefits of thinking like that? You take yourself less seriously and it positively affects the way you deal with perceived bad news. In an athletic competition, because you are in a focused mindset, you are less of a victim to your own thoughts, and your body can move more freely because of it. 

Want to read more about dealing with anxiety from our experts? Take a look at Dr Carla Edwards’ advice here.