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Mental Health and Anxiety In Sport

Mental Health in Sport

So I just watched the YouTube video from Nile Wilson on his struggles with anxiety and depression and it really resonated with me as it was just the other day I was listening to a podcast with another athlete talking about how they had experienced similar issues. Now Nile Wilson is a far more well known and pressured athlete than the other, but it just shows that struggles in sport can affect everyone no matter what level they are competing at because, I suppose it is relative to their life and those around them, and within the circle they compete in.

I am writing this because it has given me the thought that maybe I should share how I have been feeling the last few years with regards to my training, my journey and where I am now. Yes I have never competed at the Olympics like Nile, or performed at a level quite that high in my respective sport the CrossFit Games, but I can assure you the pressure to try and qualify for that or even to qualify for the CrossFit Regionals when they were about was insane and intense. Yes maybe this was a pressure I was externally putting on myself but once you have qualified once at Regionals you do get people saying “you can do this every year now”, “your amazing”, “your so inspirational”.

I guess what people do not realise or take into consideration is the hours of training, the attention to detail with a diet, the relentless want and will to succeed to not let people down and mostly not wanting to let yourself down and prove to yourself you can do it. I guess every successful athlete  especially those at the top of their game are addicted to what they do, most athletes have a very addictive personality which is why they do so well and as some say their drive for perfection is a  relentless pursuit to achieve. I must also add this is not always the way with all athletes as some manage to follow their journey with feeling no pressure, mental strain or even anxiety but for many it will happen and they will nine times out of ten not acknowledge it or even talk about it.

Whilst I have not suffered to the same degree or severity as others I can 100% say the pressure I put on myself to achieve and prove myself over the last 7 years in CrossFit has not always had a positive affect on my mental state and health. I am someone that is 100% in on something or 100% out that is just how my personality works and I do not like to give up on anything until I’m proved otherwise. I now realise looking back and reflecting that the feelings of going through the motions and just going and training when I did not want to and pushing for one more Regionals and then another not only led to me getting injured and tearing my shoulder but also a mini breakdown during the 2018 qualifiers for Regionals which ended up being my last Regionals, but also the last time I felt like I wanted to compete. In fact I went and stood on that stage not even wanting to be there when I should have felt over the moon to qualify. I even had friends telling me Lucy you did not look like you were enjoying yourself. You should have spoken to us and we could have helped you so you could have gone out and enjoyed it. I guess my mental toughness is greater than my ability to talk and let know people what is going on inside my head.

Why was I feeling like this? I guess because I felt the immense pressure to keep pushing and achieving but also because I did not want to let anyone down most of all myself. The internal pressure I have on myself when I want something is crazy. I also had people supporting me and pushing me that I ignored how I really felt. Which now I can see was a massive mistake. When I was injured I should have taken time out to recover mentally and physically where as I thought diving deeper into training would make it all ok. Sadly not in fact I think it made it worse and led me to the place where I am today.

I have decided to take a break from ‘competing’ I mean I will still go to comps and have fun but I will not actively be training for a comp. I would love to go throw down at a Sanctionals with a team and I will obtain my level of fitness and strength the best I can but it will not be my driving force for training. I want to have fun.

Since deciding this my training has improved and when I train I enjoy it so much more than I did but I have learnt I need to listen to my body and my head. Whilst I feel better my head is also still fried and finds it hard to not fall into the habits of continuing to train how it used to. Multiple sessions a day going through the motions because I thought I had to or it was all I knew because competing and striving to be the best athlete I could be had become part of who I was and actions and habits repeated becomes part of our identity. And then letting go of part of your identity is like loosing a leg or arm if mentally you have that much pressure on yourself to achieve. I truly believe the pressure I felt was from within but I clearly felt I had something to prove and the want to not let people down.

So what now? Well… I have cut back from training to try and help fix the way my brain thinks about training and work on the connection I have with it and emotions. I want to get the fun back not just the habit. What I mean by this is I would always train to make any feeling feel better I would train if I was sad, upset and even just because I felt it was habitual and part of what I needed to do. I guess there was also a tie to well if I don’t train I will not get better I will loose strength, get fat etc I wish I had learnt back then less is more and I probably would have been even better. I guess I was my own worst enemy and probably hindered my performance by being so irrational in my thoughts sometimes.

Have I suffered with anxiety and emotional fixtures and ties towards my sport and training? I guess you could say yes, but that only came from a good place of wanting to succeed. Did it make me a grumpy person who would choose training over her family, partners and doing things with friends and eating out because I wanted an early night and thought it would affect my training and body? Yes, and looking back I can see where I should have relaxed and enjoyed my life more but also I would say I would not change what I have achieved for the World as so many would like to have done what I have done. So with the bad comes good and there comes many lessons which I can learn from and try to use to help others and let them understand that it is ok to feel it is just how we deal with it and talk about it with others.

Life isn’t always how we would want it to be but we can make it how we want by using our experiences and lessons to help us and others grow. My mental strength and determination was at times my downfall as I could never walk away or step away to get perspective and it now still even plays havoc with my head around how much training I should be doing, feeling guilty sometimes if I don’t and should I be eating all the food I do if I am not doing as much as I was. But I am working on these things and making massive progress. I have not done this on my own I have had a true friend by my side to be my sounding board and complete support. I have not sought coaching help but I have taken courses to help learn myself how I can help myself and how I can use this knowledge to help others in the same position as me and this has been a great tool. I am a stubborn person and whilst having someone professional to talk to may have helped I knew it was something I needed to work through on my own in my time when I was ready else it would not have gone the way I wanted.

You may read this and think my word she is being so over dramatic she never had that much pressure on her to do well as it wasn’t the Games she wasn’t going to come top 5 at Regionals and all of those things but it is all relative and like I said the internal pressure I felt and that from those around me was something I found hard. You can take or leave what I have said and you can take your own thoughts away from it but my reasoning for writing this is to say that we can all suffer from inner pressures on ourselves in our lives be it sport, work, family etc and I just wanted to make people aware that it is ok to feel them and that it is ok to talk. Be kind to yourself as you are amazing and whatever you are going through is going to be ok.