There are many challenging dynamics that fighters face in today’s fast-paced, high-stakes, outcome-based, social media world. Athletes are increasingly feeling the pressure of all of external stressors, while their “love of the game” is being reduced by the expectations of others. Not many are aware of the mental health challenges that fighters face even. It is very important for everyone, especially fighters, to be aware of the challenges, for awareness is the first step. So let’s go through some of them.
Perfectionism. Generally speaking, people want to do everything right at all times; at least the intention is there. However, it is not realistic and can lead to problems, such us:
- Overtraining, which can lead to injuries.
- Inability to put practice or training success into competition because of too-high expectations, which leads to decreased performance.
- Feeling worthless and like a failure if any mistakes are made, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
Fear in the Failure. This is about fighters not wanting to disappoint the “others” or fighters not feeling “good enough”. The others in this case could be parents, coaches, teammates, fans, media and even general population as the competitions are on display for everyone to see.
Injuries. Recovering from a fight takes time, regardless if it’s a win or a loose. It is also very daunting as fighters rely on their physical abilities to perform in a fight. It is exhausting to wonder and wait to “be back to normal”. Also fighters might face PTSD from injuries as they are stressed about getting injured again. Let’s be real, even though they love the sport and are passionate about it, it still hurts. Period.
Lifestyle. It is crucial to be on top of this for everyone, fighters included. They absolutely must manage their sleep, nutrition and social environment. It is very important to be active and balance social connections and commitments. The sad reality is that a lot of times, athletes do not take good care of themselves.
Managing the change of environment. To be a successful fighter, one must cope with changes in lifestyle, location, environment, and social surroundings. For example the preparation process might be long and take place in a different place. Competitions are also abroad which means traveling and being outside the comfort zone. Now it is nice for some to travel, but not everyone is comfortable with long hours, sleeping in a different place and new people. Some just get homesick.
Fear of Success. This might sound like a cliché, but it’s a real issue. Some athletes fear the responsibilities and commitments that come with being successful. A fighter in this category may not want to be in the spotlight or have the responsibility of being a role model, or may not want the commitment of additional training or expenses that go with success.
As mental health is an important issue for athletes, here are some tips that might help to cope.
- One of the first things to do is to seek help from a licensed professional. Many sports organizations and institutions offer counseling services.
- Do not use alcohol or drugs to cope with your issues. It will only make things worse.
- Seek the support of others; surround yourself with positive and fun people.
- Be mindful of the present moment. Focusing on the past can lead to depression and stressing about the future can lead to anxiety. Be grateful for here and now.
- Engage your creative side. Basically, choose whatever works for you. It could be a positive podcast, writing, art, meditating, breathing, yoga, music, and any other relaxation techniques.
- Get outside and relax with an activity that is different from your sport.
- Lack of sleep causes many physical and mental issues. Make sure to get good nights sleep and go to bed at the same time every day to develop a healthy routine.
- Eat a balanced diet and make sure you get enough nutrients for performance.
- Laughter is the best medicine, engage in an activity that makes you laugh =)
- Volunteer and help others.
- Realize that you can only control your thoughts, actions and efforts.
- Recognize your triggers. What causes your stress or anxiety? If you know what triggers your negative feelings, you can begin to develop skills to eliminate, replace or minimize them.