For elite athletes, the constant pressure to perform is a given, so it is immensely important to understand and look after not only your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. Learning to be in tune with how you are feeling, and knowing when to seek support, is vital.

Here, Dr Jamie Moshinsky looks at some steps that elite athletes can take to look after their mental wellbeing.

Seek social support

As well as maintaining friendships with those within the sporting community, be sure to spend time with people outside of it. Seek support and don’t be afraid to help others too. Try to surround yourself with fun, positive and kind individuals who you can share good times with, as well as rely on when the going gets tough. Close friends can help you keep a healthy perspective and remind you that there’s a life outside of competitive sport. 

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Take a mental health day

We all have those weeks where we are almost at the brink of physical and mental exhaustion. A mental health day is a great opportunity to clear your head, take stock, and rest. Or relax with friends and family and enjoy your favourite hobbies. Your mental health will thank you for it. 

It’s good to talk

For some people, there’s still stigma around seeing a counsellor – there shouldn’t be. Talking therapy is extremely common and can be incredibly effective. Many sports clubs and organisations provide counselling services, so make good use of them. Chat to your coach or manager, or your GP for a referral to counselling services. And remember you’re just chatting to another human being who has your best interests in mind, and for who confidentiality is a given.

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Have a plan B

An unfortunate reality of professional sport is that it’s a career that cannot last forever. For many, embarking on a second career in another field is likely. It’s therefore important to consider this early on, ideally, towards the end of high school. Most universities support elite athletes to prepare for a different career, providing elite athlete programs, scholarships, and part-time workloads. TAFE is another good option, providing a certain skill-set to allow finding a career easier after professional sports. Just knowing that you have a plan B can provide peace of mind.

Become a foodie

Enjoying a meal with other people has shown to have significant positive effects on mental wellbeing when compared to eating alone. Rather than grabbing a quick bite by yourself, dine with friends. Recent research indicates that a Mediterranean-style diet is one of the best for optimum physical and mental health. 

Lend a hand

Taking a break from your daily routine to help others is a fantastic way to do good – and feel good. Research shows that spending time on charitable causes and helping other people boosts your own wellbeing. Many professional sporting clubs have volunteering programs that arrange visits to places such as children’s hospitals and schools.  No doubt you’ll brighten up someone’s day, as well as your own. 

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Be adaptable

Transitions in the sporting world are inevitable and something most athletes have to learn to live with. Their inevitability doesn’t make them any less daunting however. Remaining flexible and adaptable is a good way of weathering upheaval well.

Think of an accomplished school athlete drafted to a professional sports club. They’re fulfilling a long-held dream but may have to move cities, away from family and friends in the process. They’re likely shouldering higher expectations while undertaking a huge change in lifestyle, location and environment, possibly with less support structures in place. Understandably, they may soon feel out of their depth.

Being adaptable is key and maintaining a flexible mindset is extremely important. Seeking new support structures in your new teammates, coaches, and friends is vital. A positive attitude and a strong support network can turn an overwhelming experience into a remarkable one.

Get creative

Embrace your creative side in your spare time. Meditation, yoga, art and music are all shown to improve mental health and foster a strong sense of wellbeing. Enjoyable pastimes are an ideal way of giving your body and mind respite from the intensity of elite sport training.

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Reach out

Within the world of elite sport, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health, speaking up about it, and seeking help. Yet we know that professional assistance can make a huge difference for someone going through a difficult time.

If you’re feeling distressed visit Beyond Blue’s support services. Our mental health professionals are available 24/7 on: 1300 22 4636. Click here for a web chat (3pm-12am AEST). Alternatively, contact us via email (responses within 24 hours).

Related reading: Danni Di Toro: The gratitude mindset and dealing with setbacks

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