DOES EXERCISE MAKE ATHLETES IMMUNE TO MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS?
If exercise is nature's antidepressant then this should make athletes immune to mental health concerns, right? Wrong. But we've all heard that exercise serves to boost endorphins in the body which can help to improve our moods, and that regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, boost self-esteem, improve sleep, and energy levels. So what's the deal? Isn't your Primary Care Provider, your friends, even your Mom always recommending exercise when you're stressed/ overwhelmed/ in your feelings?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so let's talk about it.
Athletes face the challenges that NARPs (non-athletic regular people), students, parents, partners etc, are facing on a day to day basis, but also trying to balance this with a demanding training schedule, competitions/ performances, overwhelming pressure to perform, expectations from both self and others and they are likely under scrutiny by teammates, coaches, media etc. If you throw in the added pressure of having to compete for your spot, trying to get to the next level, or a season ending injury, or worse yet a career ending injury, it only makes sense that depression, anxiety, performance anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, anger management concerns and sleep disorders are at an all-time high.
From an outside perspective, it seems hard to believe that when an athlete has experienced so much success in their sport, or presents as so confident on the field/ rink etc, that they may be struggling on the inside, but it is important to remember that everyone experiences difficulties from time to time and that no one has a magic cloak protecting them from mental health concerns. As clinicians, we try to normalize that although the statistic is that 1 in 4 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year (per the latest statistics available from the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, part of the NIH), we believe that likely due to under reporting and fear of stigma, it is likely that many people do not seek the treatment they need—and as a result, the number is likely far greater.
If we took the focus off of the diagnosis and focused more on the experience, perhaps more athletes would be willing to openly discuss the sheer humanness of their struggles. Some common concerns are fear of failure, imposter syndrome, performance anxiety, body image issues, eating disorders and disordered eating, feeling as though you can't be everything to everyone- worries that either the career suffers or the relationship suffers (whether that is relationship with self, relationship with partner, relationship with family), concerns about unhealthy coping skills such as self-harm or substance use.
Whatever the case may be, when struggling with mental health concerns, it is important to speak with a licensed mental health clinician. This Clinician may or may not specialize in sports, however, at Mindurance, you can be sure that you will always have the OPTION of filtering out and speaking with Licensed Clinicians who have both a specialization in clinical and sport performance. We recognize that pathologizing mental health doesn't feel supportive, so we are also happy to simply provide support, coaching and tailored recommendations. When you're overwhelmed and not sure where to turn, know that we have your back.
“Be Kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”