How therapy can help athletes cope with mental health issues
~3 min read
Athletes are used to both tuning out and tuning into their bodies. On the one hand, they continuously ignore signs that they’re sore, fatigued, and in pain. On the other hand, they can be hyper-aware of feeling “off” or “tired”—a little is a lot when it comes to crossing into the end-zone, making a basket, or sticking the landing.
Good news: you can use your fine-tuned sense of self-awareness to recognize when it might be helpful to seek support for the pain we often mask, including mental and emotional distress. If you’re wondering whether to seek support for your mental health and wellbeing, consider the following valuable aspects of therapy.
We get it – you’re a master of “getting in the zone,” “playing through the pain,” and “walking it off.” While focus, composure, and resiliency are admirable traits that sport reinforces, there are times when it takes more strength to let your guard down. Therapy can provide you a space to release emotions that are building up inside of you and weighing you down. Whether you are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, eating concerns, body image, grief, or other distress, a therapist can help you sift through complex thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Learning how to release your emotions in a safe and healthy way is a skill that will provide both immediate and long-term relief. In other words, talking through challenges is a foundational skill, and it is one you can continue to build on throughout your life.
Referees are valuable for a reason – when they do their job effectively, they provide an unbiased, third-party perspective on plays. Ideally, this keeps the game moving forward in a fair manner. Similarly, a therapist is there to provide you with a trained observer’s perspective. Although they are technically an outsider to your specific experiences, they understand both the unique experiences of an athlete and the specific difficulties that come with a range of mental health conditions. With this removed, yet holistic perspective, they can help you to piece together a bigger picture of the challenges you are facing and steps to take to work through them. Therapists have the ability to provide advice, encourage habits, and ask questions that your close friends, family members, and teammates might not know how to best provide, encourage, or ask.
The world is at our fingertips, and it is incredible to have myriad resources available through the internet. However, regardless of how specific you get in your google searches, web results will never be either as personalized or as credible as the guidance provided during a one-on-one meeting with a licensed mental health professional. The value in meeting with a therapist is, in part, due to their ability to cater to you and only you. As with private lessons in athletics, therapy sessions provide you with individualized training and support. If you are feeling lost, confused, out of control, or alone, better understanding how to process the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you are often told to keep off the field could provide you with much needed clarity.
You’ll Never Know Until You Try
One of the most valuable lessons we learn through sport is that there are leaps and risks we have to take in order to grow in our craft. The same goes for increasing our mental and emotional well-being. If we want to improve our mental health, we have to be willing to take a few risks, including seeking support in new and different ways. With therapy, you will gain tools that will help you to work through the mental and emotional pain you are experiencing. Even recognizing that you are curious about seeking additional support is a huge step, so well done on making it this far already.
Regardless of whether or not you are currently experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, seeking additional support to increase your mental health and well-being is a valuable pursuit. As an athlete, you know more about the way your mind and body work than most people, and you can use this to your advantage.