25 Mar Mental And Emotional Training In Times of Rona
A week ago, if someone would’ve told me I’d be running training sessions over video conference in my kitchen, as my cat purrs within earshot on the sofa, I would’ve told them they were crazy.
If someone would’ve told me I’d be out of coaching at the gym, yet working overtime and 12+ hour days remotely, I would’ve told them they were crazy.
If someone would’ve told me the toilet paper supply in America would be scarce, I would’ve told them they were crazy.
If someone would’ve told me playgrounds would be covered with caution tape in 2020, I would’ve told them they were crazy.
It’s no doubt we live in weird times as the outbreak of the Coronavirus sneezed all over the world and infected thousands.
Times like these are infused with uncertainty and turmoil. And as much as we want to curl up in a ball, watch Netflix and say ‘to hell with this!’, these times call for desperate, personal measures to make it out alive.
No, this doesn’t mean hoard every frozen pizza at the supermarket.
No, this doesn’t mean overbuy wine.
No, this doesn’t mean binge watch Netflix.
Leaning into your addictions right now doesn’t serve you, except only for a finite moment in time with fleeting gratification.
So instead, why don’t you work on yourself that will serve you for an infinite moment of time with endless fulfillment?
You see, it’s tempting to plop on the couch and listen to noise, instead of sitting with your thoughts and enjoying silence.
It’s easy to rummage through the pantry for junk food, instead of cooking a healthy, whole meal.
It’s alluring to scroll on your phone, instead of Face-timing your friends and building meaningful relationships.
It’s easy to make TikTok videos, instead of writing your achievements and goals in a journal.
It’s easy to watch bodyweight at-home workouts online and lie to your coach that you’re logging hours, instead of sticking to a program with a mentor, and actually building your fitness for return to play.
This is where mental skills training comes in, a tool so powerful it will save you during a crisis. It will elevate your physical as well as mental performance. And most of you reading this are athletes, or coaches to high level athletes.
Mental skills matter.
They allow you to regain your footing and remember who you are during uncertainty – your values, your goals, your habits, your gems, your strengths, your gifts. Additionally, they allow you to find purpose again and take yourself in an empowering direction. So the time is now. Now is when you figure out who you are.
So Who Are You?
No really, who are you? It’s an uncomfortable question, no doubt – one that most don’t come to grips with. People rarely take the time to dig out an authentic, truthful answer.
While you’re here, though, and reading from the comfort of your own home and simultaneously playing Minecraft, let’s do some digging. Yes, let’s.
Starting with values, we can better decipher who we are and what things give us hope. And in a time of panic, hope gives us something to hold onto and wake up to every day with excitement. It allows us to take radical action and find inspiration, even when we feel life is in shambles.
As an example, coaching and serving others gives me hope – it gets me out of bed during a state of emergency and returns me back to the deed that needs to be done that day. In fact, there’s more presence and less panic in my day-to-day.
Let me shift gears and get allegorical on you.
Taking the conversation to literature, Frodo took on the task to destroy the Ring of Power, even though the odds were against him. And this was because he had hope. While saving Middle Earth seemed impossible, he believed that good would prevail, and put one foot in front of the other, hour by hour, day by day.
Instead of staying in the Shire and singing songs at the pub in solace, he plowed through the darkness and despair with purpose. He had a task to do each day, whether that was waking up, walking, fighting some killer spiders and orcs, walking some more, then making it one step closer to destroying the ring.
He didn’t complain, ‘gee, I have 10,000 more miles until I get there. This freaking sucks!’ Rather, he took one day at a time because that was all he had. He had hope.
Now, this isn’t to say have hope with some grandiose purpose like destroying all evil. Even the smallest things we choose to get up for each day, whether that’s building something at home, or helping someone get fit and writing their program, or playing an instrument, or cooking a bomb breakfast for your family, or breathing.
Yes, the outside world will be scary now. That won’t change. Too, it’s totally out of our control. But what we can control is our hope.
So what gives you hope?
Is it good health? Peace at home? Service to others? Connection? Relationships? Creativity?
When a pandemic permeates across the globe and despair creeps in, these are the things we can count on for a glimmer of light in our lives.
So what can you do to sprinkle these into your routine? Can you go for more walks? Can you do yoga in your room? Can you sit in silence for a few hours? Can you Face-time a group of friends and have epic conversations? Can you serve others? Can you take deep belly breaths? Can you scribble thoughts in a journal?
Or perhaps, can you realize that gems of hope are already there?
Good health. A roof. A bed. A fully stocked pantry. Family. Friends. Health insurance.
Find hope in your daily routine, as well as appreciation.
One more thing: if you’re an athlete, can you begin to set some short-term goals? These can be as itty bitty as doing a pull-up a day, doing sprints a few times a week, or saying out loud how much of a badass you are.
Spoken affirmations are powerful during this time, so speak them loud and proud, even if your siblings hear. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll inspire them to train their minds and find hope, too.
Part 2: This Article Is A Collaboration
Surprise! We are far from done here, even though you just read a 1,200-word banger of an intro.
I’ll let strength and conditioning coach and sports psychology expert Julia Eyre take it from here so she can expound on the next layer to all of this, as well as provide more actionable solutions for emotional wellbeing.
Don’t leave us now. Julia is the real deal.
Take it away…
Staying Positive & Productive
Since Miss Rona came around, it is awfully hard for anyone with a disrupted routine, and shutdown school or workplace, and a quarantine order to feel productive.
After all, it will take a few more weeks of this house arrest thing for most of us to get desperate enough to write “open eyes… get out of bed… brush teeth… brush hair… put on clothes” on out To-Do Lists, just so we have something to check off… right??
But routines keep us healthy, because they keep our nervous system feeling safe. The brain and body love habits and keeping life automated; that’s why change – especially chaotic, sudden, seemingly world-shifting change like Coronavirus *cue TikTok voice* – stresses and scares us so much.
It disrupts our life balance. Our nervous system’s stress management system alarm is wailing and telling us to run from apparent danger.
But, if you are staying inside, fully stocked on food, Netflix, Instagram, and toilet paper, then you likely have very little impending life-threatening danger coming at you in the next hour – this is not Game of Thrones!
A way to reinstate this life balance and, thus, increase immunity, stability, and productivity is by having a schedule, a To-Do List, and using self-reflection.
So, by all means! Write your small steps on your To-Do List. Try to get out of bed at the same time, eat, go for a walk, have a morning and night routine, and schedule in times to work, train, learn, practice a hobby, and anything else you need to add.
Write down big tasks and simple ones. Schedule in time just to chill and take a break, whether that’s a walk or an Insta Scroll (preferably both at different times!).
And make sure you have some small, simple wins. By checking things off your To-Do List, you are rewarding your brain by flooding it with chemicals. It’s okay to celebrate checking off “took a shower” and “cleaned the kitchen” and “sat outside in the sun”.
This will boost your feelings of positivity and productivity, even if you still feel like The Rona is cramping your style.
At the end of each day, try to host a little “self-feedback” session with yourself. What went well today? What did you learn? Notice how much you accomplished, what still needs to be done, and what you could do better tomorrow. Write it down, create your To-Do List for the following day, and then let any unfinished tasks go; you do not need to mentally take that math homework with you to sleep.
Breathing & Mindfulness
One thing that I hear regularly during the regular season is “Julia, we don’t have time for that mental or emotional training stuff; can’t you see how busy the players are already?”
In the last few weeks, a couple things have become abundantly clear:
-Mental and emotional training for athletes is also important for life (see: dealing with stress!)
-Mental and emotional training for athletes has always been important but neglected.
-We have time now.
-The athletes and coaches who put in work to improve this now will see it pay off; a lot of people are not doing this work under pressure right now!
I do not want to shame anyone who feels too time-pressed, too busy, or too stressed overall to use the Coronatime “productively”; as already stated, there is nothing optimal about 2020 thus far, and taking care of your mental health during this chaotic time is important!
However, dealing with pressure and chaos is something that athletes and coaches have to do in sport all the time… think about this as “sport stress on 10000x steroids”.
Now, more than ever, stress management skills are vital to health and performance.
Most importantly, breathing and mindfulness meditation!
Deep, slow breathing allows your nervous system – also to be termed “The Queen”, as it controls and influences essentially every part of your life – to turn of it’s stress alarm and promote recovery again, allowing your body to find its balance, or homeostasis, again.
Mindfulness meditation – no, this is not weird yogi stuff, Buddhist or Zen! – is a practice of becoming present in the moment you are in, noticing your thoughts and feelings but not judging them, and simply letting things go.
Mindfulness is about profound acceptance, letting yourself feel or think whatever comes up, naming them for what they are (they’re just thoughts and emotions – not dangerous!), and watching them pass like clouds in the sky.
It is about redirecting your attention from the wildness of the world to how your body keeps itself alive with your breath, without you even having to think about it. This is your link, called an “anchor”, to the present, a way to keep yourself grounded and not let your thoughts or feelings run away with you.
By implementing breath work and mindfulness meditations, we can prevent stress and then manage it healthfully when it inevitably comes.
Because long-term (chronic) stress is difficult for our nervous systems to handle and ultimately impacts our immunity – not the best plan during Coronatime *Cardi B Voice* #ItsGettingReal! – we need routines and skills to help us manage this stress, those thoughts, and these feelings that come up as a result of chaos and loss of normalcy.
Sport psychologists teach mindfulness, meditation, and breathing to athletes in dealing with pressure situations, like penalty kicks or tournaments, as well as to promote recovery and focus.
We have time. Use this time to learn a difficult, new mental skill that can improve your health in life and performance in sport. You will thank yourself later!
Mindful Meditation Video:
Gratitude is a life elixir. If you pick up one new habit or routine in Quarantine that you take with you for the rest of your life, let it be a practice of daily gratitude!
Every morning, make a list of three things, people, or experiences you are grateful for. Write it down, whether on paper or in your phone. Take this as seriously and do it as thoughtfully as you would writing a To-Do List or setting goals!
It’s okay if your list of gratitudes is similar each day, but try to be as specific as possible. What details are you thankful for? Why are you thankful for certain things, occurrences, or people?
Don’t take this lightly; make it a thoughtful ritual of thinking of others and appreciating the good that you see in each moment.
Then, when appropriate, show this gratefulness. Say “thank you!” to those people you listed.
Whether or not you believe in karma, there is no doubt that the world needs more “good” put into it, especially right now. Put your “good” and gratitude out into the world by sharing it with those who need and deserve it.
About the Authors
Julia is a certified strength and conditioning coach as well as sport psychology expert to elite and professional athletes in Germany. She believes that consistent high performance requires a developed, strong, and resilient human first. With focus on neuroscience and the connection between the brain, body and spirit, she helps her athletes to perform at maximum capacity on and off the pitch.
Erica Suter is a certified strength and conditioning coach in Baltimore, Maryland as well as online for thousands of youth soccer players. She works with kids starting at the elementary level and going all the way up to the college level. She believes in long-term athletic development and the gradual progression of physical training for safe and effective results. She helps youth master the basics of balance, coordination, and stability, then ensures they blossom into powerful, fast and strong athletes when they’re older.