Professional Athletes and Mental Health

For about 15 years I was holding on to that dream of becoming a professional tennis player and holding up the US Open trophy, those were times I felt nervous before tennis matches. For 6 years after that I was anxious and needed help just to get on to the tennis court before tennis matches.

I looked around one day in my early 20’s and felt oh so comfortable, I wished my fellow competitors good luck, I asked them what their game plan was, and I even asked some of them if they’d like to “hang out” after matches were over. I was calm and I had consistent butterflies in my stomach, with the occasional running to the washroom due to slightly being nervous before a match, nothing I couldn’t handle and these feelings went away just after the warm up.

Those days were numbered as I got into my mid 20’s though, I started avoiding competitors trying not to converse with them because of my “you’re the enemy” mentality before the match. I would have intense shakes all over my body, and my heart palpitations were uncontrollable. If I just got on to the tennis court it was a great accomplishment in itself let alone having any focus, or energy left to actually give myself a chance to win the tennis match. So, why did this happen I wondered to myself? How did I go from an easy going unstressed man to a frantically anxious person on and off the tennis court that felt like I had a gun to my head each time I took to the tennis court? Self… made… pressure was the answer, and it’s happening more and more to today’s professional athletes and it’s greatly affecting their performance.

This is so similar to people out there currently dealing with an anxiety disorder and panic attacks because again there is a certain fear and a pressure they put on themselves as well. For the vast number of people that go through panic attacks the pressure comes from not dying! Thoughts such as, “what is this tingling in my arms”? “should my heart be beating that hard”? These questions can quickly bring someone into the panic cycle that leads people to the emergency room, surfing the web for answers, and becoming overly reliant on Benzo’s and Anti Depressants, and just like many athletes that are going through this cycle before a competition, the rest of society is also paying the price by losing relationships, losing self esteem, losing a job, and worst of all losing hope of getting themselves back all together.

So what’s the first thing that professional athletes and society in general do when an anxiety disorder such as GAD or Panic Disorder strike? They rest! In the hopes that after all this rest one day it will disappear and they will be back to their normal confident desensitized from fears self, and can be productive again.

They quickly realize it doesn’t work, so next step? Talk therapy! Well, for the average joe that’s going to cost an arm and a leg and they quickly realize it’s… not… working, so now what? You guessed it, Medications! Well, the idea that anti depressants helps raise the seratonin levels in your brain to give you a happy feeling is… well, close to complete BS in my opinion because of the vast number of people that have not felt “happy after long long periods of taking them due to depression, oh I forgot to mention you become over tolerant, you might gain lots of weight, Benzo’s will make you feel and look like a zombie due to the anti anxiety medications that are being given out like candy, and the side effects are horrendous.

But did you know, everything I needed to overcome my Generalized Anxiety Disorder was already within me when I was looking for some kind of outer help each and everyday?

the answer lies in my 6 steps to overcome GAD,

1) Acceptance – Accept that what you have is related to stress and anxiety

2) Become knowledgeable – learn everything you can about the fight or flight response, our nervous systems, why we get such real physical sensations during times of panic etc

3) Build on the facts – A panic attack hasn’t killed anyone in the past, and your fears have not come true and never will

4) Make a decision and take action – No one has ever made a lifestyle or mindset change without having a clear plan of attack

5) Accept setbacks – fearful thoughts, anxiousness, physical sensation will continue to happen, 2 steps forward and 1 back is still headed in the right direction

6) Patience – This just like anything else takes time to achieve, so the mindset of patience is key

Yhese steps are truly the “cure” that the overly anxious people are searching for, but you guessed it, it takes work! So get to it and kiss your anxiety disorder goodbye!