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Coronavirus: How sportspersons can overcome their anxiety?

Coronavirus: How sportspersons can overcome their anxiety?

Sanjay M. Bhambhani

Published: 26 March 2020 4:54 AM GMT

It’s a tough time. We’re are amid a worldwide pandemic, with cities and even entire countries shutting down. While some are directly being affected by the coronavirus, others are bracing for what may come. And all of us are anticipating, “What is going to happen next?”

For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We don’t know how exactly we’ll be impacted or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. With the lockdown under process, it can take a massive toll on mental health. As we all know, like other spheres of life sports has bore brunt of COVID-19 as well -- the latest being the postponement of the Olympics and it is bound to have repercussions on the athletes who have been preparing for the Games day and night.

So let us explore how the pandemic can affect our sports icons:

Why does one face anxiety in life?

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about a situation with an uncertain outcome. An athlete would face anxiety because he/she would be unable to face the consequences of an uncertain outcome. Sportspersons have been reeling for the past few weeks because of anxiety about their future. They have to understand that all actions they do have an outcome.

Vinesh Phogat (Image: unitedworldwrestling) Vinesh Phogat (Image: unitedworldwrestling)

Who all is affected by this?

Future Olympians, who were training extremely hard for the past many years, had set their eyes upon 24 July 2020. They were excited about being a part of the Opening Ceremony of the Games. They would have dreamt about that day from childhood. They were gearing to peak on the day of the event. They had calculated and planned backwards from July

24th, every month, week, day, hour and minute of their preparation.

Alas, that was not to be. The 2020 Olympic Games, like many other sports events, were postponed for a year. That would definitely be a heartbreaker and a cause of huge anxiety.

Also read: Mind Matters | Pressure and perspective – The 2 P’s of performance

How is the situation analysed?

Let’s take a simple example that my teacher used to teach about what life can throw at us:

Possibility 1

Equal to my expectation

Possibility 2

Less than my expectation

Possibility 3

More than my expectation

Possibility 4

Opposite to my expectation

If you think / reason out, you will understand that the outcomes in your life can only be one of the above four possibilities. Equal to my expectation, Less than my expectation, More than my expectation or Opposite to my expectation.

The situation created by the coronavirus is OPPOSITE to what we were

expecting from the future. Now with this situation becoming a reality, many of the sportspersons I have been interacting with, said that they felt like someone had kicked them with brute force in the stomach or that a hollow void was experienced with blank ringing in the ears.

Bajrang Punia (Image: uniteworldwrestling) Bajrang Punia (Image: uniteworldwrestling)

Another went on to confess that she involuntarily started crying. It took her parents over an hour to help her gain control over her emotions.

You all would have read, how, many famous sportspersons have expressed the feeling of being stressed because of being locked away from their favourite activity.

This sense of anxiety and helplessness can stay with you for a long time if not addressed in the proper manner.

What can be done to deal with it?

Sportspersons can be broken into two simple categories; Aspiring (those wishing to represent India in the future) and Elite (those currently representing India at international events). Whether you are an aspiring or elite athlete, all are affected.

Now the million-dollar question is, what can be done to deal with the anxiety of the lockdown from the coronavirus? Giving the reason, is one part of the problem. After we agree to the cause of the problem, we would be more interested to know the solution to the issue of anxiety. The general advice is:

  • Maintain your routines as much as possible from within your home.
  • Fix Sleeping and Waking time, because it’s good for your immune system.
  • Increase exercising: It’s calming and will boost immune function helpful to fight the virus.
  • Work more on the mental aspects of the game. Meditation time can be increased.
  • Revise all aspects of your program with your coach.
  • Etc.

However beneficial these methods may be, they still don’t seem to work as efficiently as we would wish them to. We have to start afresh, press the reset button of our life, and check how we are on the scale of our responses to the four possibilities:

Both Saina Nehwal (Image: Amar Ujala) Saina Nehwal (Image: Amar Ujala)

First, I have to determine - How was I dealing with the anxiety of the normal type before the coronavirus arrived?

All sportspersons would agree, that if the results are more than expectation, then there is no anxiety. We human being easily accept, anything more than expected and is always happy with more.

As regards results which are Equal to expectation, we are OK-OK or lukewarm happy. In this situation, we do feel we could have strived to get more. With equal to expectation also, we don’t seem to be anxious. But it is still not a best-case scenario.

However, when we get less than an expectation or Opposite to expectation results, we are incapable of handling the situation and we become anxious.

We have to understand that before we build the mental strength to cope with anxiety caused by less than expected results or Opposite to expected results, we have to first work upon Equal to expected results.

Where can we find some respite?

Sportspersons would easily understand, that if today, you are capable of lifting a 50 kg weight, then lifting a weight which is 10 kgs or 25 kgs or anything below 50kgs is easy, as your current strength is capable of lifting a 50 kg weight.

However, if I was to load you with a weight of 60kgs or 75 kgs or 100 kgs, you would not be able to lift that weight and you would struggle and eventually break down if such a weight was put upon you.

That you cannot lift above 50kgs today, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future.

If you add slightly more weight (say 1 kg) to the 50 kg weight, then, you would experience ease in lifting 51 kgs within a few days or weeks of effort. If you continue to raise the bar on a frequent interval, then you can go to 52 kgs to 55kgs and 60 kgs and even 100 kgs or more with enough effort !!!

Similarly, we are supposed to measure our mental strength as a capacity of lifting weight,

Because of the lukewarm reactions from Equal to expected results, when Less than expected or Opposite to expected result are faced by you, you can’t handle it and that results in ANXIETY!

So, the solution is to improve your mental strength capacity from today onwards by being GRATEFUL for what you have today i.e. GRATEFUL for results that are Equal to expectations.

Amit Panghal (Image: BFI) Amit Panghal (Image: BFI)

What all are we to be grateful / thankful for:

  • Good health.
  • Free time that I had always wanted but never had.
  • A time to introspect and plan about future and my medium and long-term goals.
  • Catch up with the immediate family members living with me.
  • Etc.

There is a long list of things each of us has to be grateful for. Let’s be grateful once early in the morning, then again in the afternoon, then in the evening and finally at night, before sleeping.

We will notice, that once we start to work upon our mental responses for situations that are Equal to expectation by being GRATEFUL, which is today’s reality, we will gain strength and our anxiety will go down.

Then slowly but steadily our mental strength would increase and we would be going from 50kgs to 51kgs to 100 kgs and beyond. Then in the week or weeks to come, we would be able to deal with Less than expected results, finally, we will be able to see our strength against mental strain and anxiety caused from Opposite to expected results Like the coronavirus too !!

When does the need for a magical solution arise?

Finally, a magical prayer that worked for me and all those I have shared with in the past two decades. It should be tried and incorporated in daily life to fight anxiety:






Also read: Mind Matters | How to take care of mental health during coronavirus

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