We look forward to watching the best of the best athletes participate in the Olympic Games every four years, knowing it must have taken them great effort to get there. But are they all able to handle the extreme pressures involved in attaining such a great, superhuman accomplishment?
It’s hard to imagine pulling off some of these extremely challenging events and actually coming out on top. These awesome athletes inspire us to do our absolute best, push ourselves beyond our imagined limitations, and rise to the top. They dazzle us on television and we can’t wait to see the competitions begin. But what is going on inside the heads of these people who have pulled off such amazing physical and mental feats? Let’s look at Olympic athletes and the strain on their mental health.
High Pressure Challenges
Olympic competitors face quite a deal of stress and pressure leading up to the Olympic Games. Preparing and training their bodies and pushing themselves harder and harder to win. It can definitely take its toll on athletes under pressure.
The US gymnast Simone Biles recently opened up a conversation about mental health in the Olympics when she withdrew from the vault and uneven bars competitions due to mental health concerns, specifically not feeling like she could trust herself. Gymnastics is a very dangerous sport if not performed correctly. She said her mind and body were not in sync and she didn’t want to seriously injure herself, so she focused on her mental health.
‘OK to Not Be Ok’
Australian professional basketball player Elizabeth Cambage quit the Summer Olympics due to mental health struggles. She withdrew from the games after an incident during a warmup scrimmage against the Nigerian Women’s team. She opened up about how she struggled with her mental health and said that to perform well, athletes needed to be at their physical and mental peak.
When top-notch athletes come out and show us that they have very real mental struggles, it demonstrates that it’s healthy to talk about mental health. It’s a very brave thing to bring their difficulties out in the open for the public eye to view. Many people have applauded their courage in opening up communication about psychological health in the Olympics, and in general. It’s become more and more the conversation that needs to be had, and shouldn’t be hidden.
Impact of Sports Figures
Famous athletes are easy to admire and people of all ages find themselves in awe of their great abilities. Michael Phelps, the Olympian swimmer with the most medals of all time, has openly come out and talked about his struggles with mental health. It can come as a shock to hear that someone so accomplished was struggling and fighting with themselves the whole time.
In 2010, Phelps launched the Michael Phelps Foundation, with a mission to promote healthy, active lives, especially for children, primarily by expanding the opportunities for participation in the sport of swimming. Phelps also teamed up with Talkspace, an online therapy app, to advocate the need to talk about mental health openly.
Managing Stress in High Pressure Situations
With athletes’ dreams on the line, and the world watching, what can they do to stay mentally stable? They’re still human and even the strongest competitors have mental struggles. Some pressure makes competitors rise to the occasion, but sometimes it makes them crumble.
Pressure can build and cause panic, making an athlete “choke” and unable to perform. It affects coordination, focus and judgement, increases the heart rate, and speeds up breathing. This unwanted tension can be debilitating. It can be hard to admit that the pressure is too much when athletes are trained to push through.
Here are some ways to help manage stress in competitive and high stress scenarios.
- Deep rhythmic breathing: This helps to stay focused and control the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- Embrace the moment: Staying with the process, not the outcome, allows more ability to keep attention on the present skills and movements.
- Remember the future: There will be more opportunities to perform well. There’s no need to let pressure build up too excessively when there will be other chances to win.
- Let go of winning: If the focus is solely on winning, it can cause nervousness and take away from performing well in the current moment.
- Stay mindful: Focus on what can be controlled – the breath – and let it wash over the moments. Mindfulness creates a calm place inside, a refuge from anxiety.
Even professionally trained athletes who accomplish amazing feats suffer from mental struggles. Some have courageously come forward to bring this fact to the media, allowing the world to have empathy for them and put psychological issues into perspective.
We can learn from Olympic athletes and bring their coping techniques to the high pressure and competitive events in our own lives. Life can feel like a stressful race for everyone and having ways to manage daily tension is essential.