It’s nearly impossible to understand the pressure faced by competitive athletes unless you are one. Not only do you have to battle the usual stressors of daily life, but you need to stay focused on pushing yourself to reach your athletic goals.
The pressure you place on yourself, or experience from family, friends, fans, and your coach to be the best can take a toll on your mental health. It’s easy to get down on yourself when you feel like you’ve under-performed, or haven’t met your potential on the track or in the pool. Sometimes, the stress can be too much, leaving you feeling mentally drained, lost — sometimes the strain can lead to more serious mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.
Although you might not be seeing the physical manifestations of your mental distress — as you would with a physical condition, an injury for example — doesn’t mean your mental health is fine. Though many athletes don’t like to admit weakness, asking for help when you’re struggling is actually a source of strength.
It’s also important to know where to get help when you need it. Therapy can help you take care of your mental health and keep you on track for success in all aspects of your life — on the track and off — but many feel too intimidated to start therapy or don’t know how to begin. They feel that the stigma of asking for help is still too high.
If this sounds like you, this article can bring some clarity about why to seek help and how to find it.
How Can Therapy Help You?
Many athletes are so competitive and have such self-determination that they believe they can do everything on their own. Improving your mental health, however, is best done with the support of others, like a licensed therapist. Decades of psychotherapy research and practice prove that therapy is effective in improving individuals’ mental health. Issues with body image, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression are common amongst athletes of all genders and should be addressed by a licensed mental health professional.
One of the greatest misconceptions about therapy, however, is that you need to be mentally ill in order to see a therapist. When in reality, according to Talkspace therapist Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S, “Many people begin therapy in order to feel more confident and comfortable in their lives.”
Your therapist can help you set and achieve goals, and foster positive relationships with yourself and others. Often clients approach their therapists when they feel stuck in life, when they have trouble communicating in their relationships, or when they feel burnt out at work. Or, of course, when they’re struggling on the field — feeling depressed or anxious about their athletic performance — or simply dealing with demands of off-field.
Speaking to a therapist will help you work through feelings of distress and turn them into actionable coping strategies. No matter what you’re going through, therapy can create the space you need, giving you a routine check in with yourself, and an impartial third-party with years of training who can provide important insight into your challenges — someone who can help you improve and maintain your mental health.
How to Start Therapy
If you’ve never been to therapy before, starting therapy might feel daunting or overwhelming. Where do you begin? What do you say? Where do you go?
Take a deep breath, the only goal of therapy is to help you. Many people even feel a sense of relief after they make their first appointment or download an online therapy app. Just think of it like a muscle that needs working out. At first figuring out how therapy works might feel a little uncomfortable, but the more you work out the easier it gets.
- Forget about the stigma. Try to go into therapy clear of any preconceived notions and wipe out all the misconceptions from your mind. It’s not going to be an old man with a cigar and you on a fainting couch. Therapy isn’t even just for people with mental illnesses. After all, tending to your mental health and well-being is just like working on your physical health at the gym. Staying mentally fit is just as, if not more, important than staying physically fit.
- Pick the type of therapy that works best for you. Are you going to pursue in-person therapy, or try online therapy? Some things to consider here are your schedule, budget, and insurance plan. You can check with your insurer to find therapists in your area, or consider an online therapy provider like Talkspace that is confidential, convenient, and inexpensive — and you can get started today!
- Choose a therapist you’re comfortable with. Your therapist should make you feel comfortable sharing anything about your life. If they don’t, then they just aren’t the right fit for you. Feel free to try different therapists until you find “the one.” This is just someone who you click with and has the right training for whatever issues you’re dealing with. Using a platform like Talkspace, you can seamlessly switch therapists until you find the right fit.
- Start the conversation. At the start of therapy, you’ll spend some time getting to know your therapist and discussing your therapy goals with them. They’ll ask you some questions about what brought you to seek therapy. It can be helpful to create a list of topics you’d like to discuss to help your therapist gauge where you’re at in life, and what the most important things are to work on at the moment. If you don’t know how to begin the conversation, try finishing these sentences:
a. “Today I’m feeling…”
b. “I would like to talk about…”
c. “Something that not a lot of people know about me is…:”
If you still feel stuck, just talk about your day! Your therapist will help guide you through conversation.
- Be open and honest. The more you tell your therapist about your struggles and concerns, the more they will be able to help you work through your roadblocks, and the sooner you will be able to combat your challenges head-on. And that’s when you’ll start to feel better!
- Be patient. Therapy doesn’t promise an overnight fix, but the skills you learn in therapy can be extremely impactful in helping you reach a happier healthier lifestyle. And you’ll have these skills long after you stop therapy and so can help prevent issues in the future.
Why Athletes Should Consider Online Therapy
Between juggling training, practices, friends, family, work, and school, sometimes it gets to be too much. You might feel like you have no time for anything else on your plate, let alone commuting to a therapist’s office.
Online therapy, however, is a way to work therapy into your day without taking any time away from training or daily life. It’s as simple as sending a couple messages whenever is best for you, from wherever you are. Online therapy is a convenient, yet affordable option often best suited for the busy lifestyles of competitive athletes. You can also schedule live video sessions with your therapist if you’d prefer to see them face-to-face.
The best part, particularly for athletes who often have plenty of expenses associated with their sport, is that Talkspace is typically 80% less expensive than face-to-face therapy, and features rigorously trained, licensed professionals to help people work through their struggles. And you can communicate however you feel most comfortable, whether through live video sessions, video or audio messages, or simply texting them whenever something is on your mind. Talkspace is also HIPAA compliant and completely confidential.
The flexibility to share what’s on your mind during your day, ensures that you don’t have to wait a week or more before bringing it up to your therapist. If you’re feeling nervous the night before an event, you can get it off your chest in the moment. Your therapist is always just a message away.
The Most Important Step Is Getting Started
We all know the feeling — that feeling when it’s been a while since we last stepped into the gym and it’s time to get back into the swing of things. It’s always the first reps when we’re training that are the hardest. With therapy it’s the same — it can be nerve-racking to start, but most people usually feel much more comfortable once they get accustomed to the routine. You may look forward to talking to your therapist just as you might feel excited to get back on your bike or into the pool.
Therapy can help athletes get a better grasp on their mental health, and understand the root of some of their distress, all while developing coping mechanisms and setting meaningful goals. Don’t put it off, do yourself a favor and start your mental health training regiment today.
The pressures faced by athletes are immense so don’t put it off — your mind will thank you, but so might your teammates and coach.