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Powerlifters are elite athletes who face some of the same mental challenges as athletes of other more traditional or commercial sports such as basketball and football. However, they have the added challenge of fighting against stereotypes as tough men and women who don’t react to the emotional toil.
The truth is, powerlifters suffer from anxiety and emotional distress as they train for competitions. The stigma as a “tough” man or woman sport sometimes prevents the public from realizing they are athletes who have to work through the mental health challenges just like anyone else.
Psychological Effects of Powerlifting Competitions
Powerlifters routinely struggle with several psychological effects that are common across the board including:
- Low self-esteem.
- Emotional distress.
- Emotional deregulation.
- Misperceptions of reality.
There are many positive psychological effects as well, such as an increased self-esteem at rising in an elite sport and building a lean and strong body. However, the powerlifter must be intentional about cultivating these positive effects.
Symptoms/Problematic Signs of a Breakdown
Powerlifting competitions are not only stress-inducing but they push competitors to go farther and farther past their limits in an effort to beat their fellow athletes. It feels like a failure when a powerlifter bottoms out or cannot lift what he or she previously had practiced.
When this happens, it could be nerves that are at work and the pressure has gotten to the powerlifter’s head. In addition, you may hear a powerlifter screaming or yelling, essentially being very emotive as they lift and drop the weights. This is an emotional release that acts as both encouragement to the powerlifter and as a release from the pain and anxiety built up in preparation for lifting.
None of these effects are problematic until the powerlifter experiences a breakdown mentally and physically. Signs to watch for in a powerlifter on the edge of a mental breakdown include:
- A fixation on prepping, lifting more and winning. Nothing else consumes the powerlifter’s time and mind like preparing.
- Uncontrollable and sporadic emotion that borderline meltdowns. The smallest changes effect the powerlifter’s ability to communicate and function properly.
- Bursts of emotion followed by a deep sadness and solitude.
- A tendency of the powerlifter to be extremely hard on himself or herself – even about the smallest things.
When a powerlifter begins to face any combination of these symptoms, it may be time to take a step back. Release stress and recalibrate to prepare the mind for healthy thinking and training. Otherwise, without management of these symptoms an emotional and mental breakdown may be on the horizon.
Causes and Dangers of the Psychological Effects
Powerlifters are known to struggle with anxiety and sometimes depression, which often are concurring mental health issues. The extreme nature of the competitions and the pressure to lift extremely heavy weights under pressure contributes to the build up of anxiety and to the powerlifter believing that he or she is not good enough.
Without intervention, this becomes a self-fulling prophecy for the powerlifter – and the onset of depression is common.
How to Maintain Balance in Powerlifting Competitions
Psychologists note that one of the best resources for powerlifters preparing for competitions is de-stressing and practicing mindfulness ahead of the actual game day.
Mindfulness exercises help redirect the brain and the emotions so a person is not ruminating on the stress of the competition or thinking poor thoughts about their performance. This has been shown to be self-defeating and to actually affect performance.
Powerlifters also should practice positive self-talk by rising each morning, looking at themselves in the mirror, and intentionally and forcefully saying positive things such as: “You work hard and you look amazing!” rather than being critical and remaining on untrue and unproductive thoughts.
Examples and Facts about Powerlifting Competitions
When it comes to popular culture, there is perhaps no better example of the real-life toll of powerlifting and body building than celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you have the incredible physique of a human being like Schwarzenegger, it’s still possible to struggle with self-esteem.
This is something Schwarzenegger has been very open about. Powerlifters often are very critical of their progress and their bodies. Without management of those thoughts, they begin to think their bodies don’t look good and that they’ll never be good enough. The standards are extremely high. Often, even powerlifters at the top of the profession find it difficult to accept themselves. However, when they can accept and celebrate their achievements, as Schwarzenegger has learned to do, they can experience an increased self-confidence and an incredible sense of empowerment.
A Word of Ending
Powerlifting is an intriguing and strenuous sport that requires a great deal of physical and mental training. Powerlifters can better prepare for the stress and anxiety of competing by learning to manage their emotions and thoughts through mindfulness exercises. They can also try incorporating healthy activities designed to help them de-stress and de-escalate emotions.
Have you had an experience with a powerlifting competition that left you in a poor state? Do you have a friend or loved one who is struggling as a powerlifting athlete? Leave a comment below about how this article helps you or others. You can also add your own personal experience and advice as well. With practice, every athlete can learn skills to help better manage the stress and anxiety of elite competitions. Powerlifters can have hope through tailoring their routines to mindfulness exercises and living into a positive and healthy self-esteem. Share your experience below and help the community grow together.