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When it comes to physical activity and general fitness, your mental condition is just as important. Lately, great strides are being made to make mental health a less taboo topic in athletics. Stars like Simone Biles and Michael Phelps have openly shared their struggles with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Your mind can shape your performance as well as other important factors like weight and body management. This is what makes it important to know exactly why taking care of your mind translates to consistent performance and improvement.
Mental Performance in Sports
Being an athlete requires a lot of dedication and mental fortitude. According to documentation from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, athletes develop a lot of specific mental health disorders like eating disorders, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, attention deficit, and sleep disorder, among others. This is a tragic paradox given that participating in any physical activity can, in itself, also help your mental health and release positive chemicals in the body.
That said, innate mental issues can significantly deter any of the aforementioned benefits that sports can offer.
Even the most determined athletes will not be able to forever stave off the effects of poor mental health. Sooner or later, these will present in physical manifestations that can greatly alter your physique and sporting performance.
How Stress Can Affect Your Body
Stress immediately hurts your performance because it clouds your judgment and makes it harder to focus. This can lead to a diminished ability to think on your feet and make quick-time decisions. On top of that, as mentioned above, your body starts “presenting” the stress you are carrying.
Consistent stress tends to make your muscles constrict more and makes you prone to muscle pain, headaches, stomach problems, and even nausea. If you don’t deal with your stress, your body starts to literally feel ill. Over time, you’ll even increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Aside from symptoms of stress manifesting, you also become more likely to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that affect your fitness routine and eating habits. In our previous article on “How to Stop Stress Eating”, we note how a lot of people turn to emotional eating when dealing with constant stress. Because food satisfies you and feels like a reward after hard work and physical exertion, it can easily become a crutch that you use to comfort yourself.
This rings especially true when you tend to go for highly addictive food substances like sugar and fats that hold no real health benefit.
Positive Motivation and Discipline in Fitness
Motivation and discipline are essential for maintaining any sort of fitness plan. Because athletes feel the pressure of their sports’ standards, this can make them their own worst critic. While the tough love approach may work coming from coaches, it is important to treat one’s self with kindness.
Research suggests that coming from a place of self-compassion is much more effective and healthy in the long run. As detailed in a list of science-backed weight loss motivational tips by WeightWatchers, being kind to yourself when hitting hurdles and setbacks is essential if you want to be able to get back on the saddle. With this more positive approach, you can mend both the internal and external struggles that may be impairing your athletic goals.
In line with this, it may also help to seek the help of mental health professionals. In this way, you can better target the root issues and develop healthy coping methods for external triggers. After all, countless studies say that tackling mental health issues holistically is critical for improving physical wellness.
Otherwise, weight gain research featured on News Medical shows that individuals who do not get help for their mental health problems are more likely to gain weight, overeat, and lean toward a more sedentary lifestyle. All of these factors make it much harder to stay in shape, let alone stay active in competitive sports.
In the long run, you can’t be an athlete based on the physical grind alone. If you want to be able to keep up physically, it’s best to dedicate time and effort to self-care and mental health. By shedding the things that burden your mind, you will have an easier time letting go of excess weight and physical handicaps.