Mental health: positive thinking under lockdown
Taking care of your mind as well as your body has never been more important than it is now, writes Sport and Performance Psychologist Sarah Huntley, as the nation continues to navigate Covid-19 restrictions.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) and as we continue with lockdown measures, according to where we live in Britain, we all face ongoing challenges when it comes to looking after our mental health. The theme of this year’s awareness week is kindness (look out for the social media hashtags #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek), focusing on how acts of kindness, however small, can have great impact across all areas of society. Kindness includes treating yourself well, which can sometimes be hard to remember in the midst of this uncertain time.
As a sport psychologist I normally work with athletes and coaches to improve their focus, motivation, confidence and mental toughness. However, the concepts of psychology extend outside of the sporting arena and can be applied to help us not just survive, but thrive during this time.
As an archer, as well as the disruption to your normal life, I’m sure you’ve also had to cope with some significant changes in your sport too. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the silver lining, but rest assured there are ways we can all use this period of social isolation to our advantage and come out the other end fitter, stronger and more resilient than ever.
Here are my three top tips for you to maintain your mental health, focus your training and ultimately benefit from this time spent at home:
- Get outside
With winter a distant memory, now is the time to get outside! Find some green space and reap the benefits of absorbing some Vitamin D. According to a meta-analysis conducted in 2011, spending time outdoors comes with a range of benefits. Participants reported enhanced mental wellbeing immediately following gentle exercise in the natural environment, as opposed to those who stayed indoors. Feelings of revitalisation, decreased anger and increased energy were also recorded.
Keep moving! Whether it’s just a simple walk, bike ride, jog or more specific archery strength-training exercise, we all have many options to maintain and improve our fitness.
Another recent study (Ryan et al., 2019) found that being outside has a significant positive effect on enthusiasm, feeling of ‘aliveness’, and energy. With spring firmly here, there’s no better place to be than the great outdoors!
- Focus on what you CAN do
Your attention is your most precious resource, so use it wisely. Try shifting your mindset on the pandemic and turn what at first can appear to be a threat into a challenge. This will have significant positive consequences – on both your mood and wellbeing. When you’re indoors, get creative and you’ll be surprised as to how much you can continue to do with regards to training (check our Facebook page for ideas from our top athletes and coaches). If you decide to look at the situation in a positive way, you’ll find you enjoy this time a lot more.
- Build on your mental skills
It’s estimated that as little as 18 per cent of expertise is attributed to the physical side of sport (Brook & McNamara, 2016), leaving a whopping 82 per cent down to mental skills amongst other areas such as nutrition and sleep. This really highlights how there is so much more than just doing the physical training to becoming really good at what you do – never more so than on the shooting range – where the ability to focus, ignore distractions and repeat skill to a high standard are crucial.
Time away from the pressures of competition and structured training can actually be a great time to develop mental skills. With all sporting events cancelled or postponed for now, this is the time to work with a sport psychologist – focusing on areas such as clarity, focus, mindset and confidence – to allow you to return to the range a stronger, more focused and determined athlete than ever before.
Sarah Huntley is a sport and performance psychologist based in Brighton. She works with elite and amateur athletes alike, across a variety of sports on a one-to-one basis either online or by phone.
Sarah offers a free strategy call so you can find out more. Head to www.sarahhuntley.com for more information.