The mind and body are intertwined. This COVID-19 pandemic has disturbed our lives. One aspect that has been affected is our minds. Since March, we have added fears and anxieties. Many cannot sleep well. Depression is at an all-time high. This pandemic has spared no one — including world-class athletes.
I remember Mary Joy Tabal’s honest confession to me a few months back: “Grabeh ako prayers (I prayed a lot), like every night jud, praying for something that would divert my worries, my overthinking. I always want to be productive and the lockdown was so difficult.”
Elite athletes are not ordinary people. They push their bodies and minds to the extreme levels. They are restless, often sweating for hours everyday. They set targets. The best of them, including Joy, wanted to run the Tokyo Olympics last August. They had to stay in bed and watch CLOY.
Stanford University and Strava partnered in a study, “Impacts of COVID-19 on Professional Athletes.” They interviewed 131 top U.S. athletes to check on the effects of COVID-19. The results are not shocking.
A good 22.5% of these elite athletes reported feeling down or depressed during the COVID-19 restrictions — a 5.8 times increase compared to last year. Before the lockdown, only 4.7% reported feeling anxious more than half the days in a week. This pandemic: 27.9% of them feel nervous — a six-fold increase in anxiety levels. Seventy one percent of them are worried about their finances.
“It’s pretty obvious that people right now, given everything that’s been going on in 2020, the calamity across the board, that people are going to have mental health struggles and difficulty exercising and a lot of these symptoms,” says Dr. Megan Roche, in a Time.com article by Sean Gregory, “COVID-19 Shutdowns Have Taken a Massive Toll On Elite Athletes’ Mental Health.”
Rebecca Mehra, a respondent who was preparing for the U.S. Olympic trials, said: “It makes you feel more normal to know other athletes have been frustrated and having a tough time. I was just in such a rut. I didn’t want to get up and go to practice. I barely felt like running.”
Pedro Gomes, an Ironman triathlete, added: “Mentally, I was definitely lost. I just did not know how long the (swimming) pool was going to be closed for. The uncertainty of not knowing when this is going to end and being completely out of my control, it was something scary.”
This study was conducted from March to August. The good news is that many restrictions have been lifted. But if elite athletes, whose minds and bodies we’d consider superior and invulnerable, get affected mentally, how much more us, ordinary mortals?
My learning from this: Take care of yourself. Mind and body are one. If you take care of your physical self, it will improve your mental state. One of the best ways is to exercise regularly. Exercise clears the stress hormones out of our system and helps us relax and calm down. It improves our mood. Exercise is the most potent and underutilized antidepressant.. and it’s free.