Mental-health strategies we can borrow from elite athletes

Home In the NewsMental-health strategies we can borrow from elite athletes

Elite athletes can experienced anxiety and depression; Turns out that the skills they learn are just as applicable to the workplace.

By Kimiya Shokooh – Special to the Globe and Mail* – July, 2021 

For elite athletes, ensuring your mind is focused and your mental health is in check is so integral to success that those representing Canada at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year have access to experts to help them reach peak performance. Turns out that the skills they learn are just as applicable to the workplace.
“We all have necessities and anxieties and fears and get overwhelmed by demands and pressures. In order to mitigate that, we need to develop resilience skills so that we can tolerate the stress,” says Karen MacNeill, lead mental-performance consultant and mental-health counsellor for the Canadian Olympic Committee.
A former field hockey player and 1999 Pan American bronze medallist, MacNeill has been working with Canada’s Olympians through the last five Games and is scheduled to be at hand for Canadian athletes in Tokyo.
“It’s not the stress and the demand, but the lack of recovery strategies that can [pose] a real challenge,” she said, which is why she advises strategies that draw on the “eat, sleep, play” routine from many of our childhoods.
Some of her mental-health strategies include:
Movement – remembering to exercise and keep your body engaged regularly. Finding sports and activities that you are passionate about and that are fun for you help make this step significantly easier.
Eating for energy – tailoring optimal food plans that fuel you.
Getting in a good amount of sleep – at least seven hours is the amount of sleep recommended by the Mayo Clinic. Equally important is developing daily mental fitness tools such as journaling and deep-breathing exercises.
In a year where the Olympic Games were pushed back, with many athletes finding themselves isolated and their dreams deferred, ensuring proper mental-health training has come to the fore. Increasingly, athletes such as Naomi Osaka, Clara Hughes and Michael Phelps, among many others, have spoken publicly about their own mental-health struggles.
In 2019, the International Olympic Committee found that more than 33 per cent of elite athletes experienced anxiety and depression – a significant number, considering 13 per cent of the population worldwide experiences some form of mental disorder.
The organization’s response was a mental-health tool kit for elite athletes, which outlines the core components of a well-rounded mental-health strategy, including prioritizing athletes’ mental health, education and prevention, and even post-career transition. Each responsibility is then assigned to sporting organizations, the athlete’s entourage, or health professionals. In a typical corporate setting, you could just as easily imagine the sports organization being swapped out for a company, and athlete’s entourage replaced by an employee’s support circle.
The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety are costing the global economy US$1-trillion annually. They suggest that with every dollar that is put up in treating common mental disorders, there is a return of four dollars. While the responsibility has long been on individuals to treat and tend to their mental health as a private matter, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that it is no longer just a personal issue to be resolved alone.
“That sense of stoicism – when I’m supposed to endure difficulty without issue or complaint – with education, that’s changing,” MacNeill said.

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About the Author

*Kimiya Shokoohi – Kimiya Shokoohi is a writer and filmmaker based in Greater Vancouver.

Photo Credit

Image byKayvan Mazhar –

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