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Swimming and Burnout: How to Avoid It

Swimmers are prime candidates to experience burnout — here’s everything you need to know to set yourself up for success.

Swimming and burnout go hand in hand — to become a great swimmer, you need to put in countless hours in the water. But the depths of training don’t end once a swimmer steps out of the pool…

There are other strict routines that make up their weekly schedule — an intense diet, a recovery routine, gym sessions, and the pressure to succeed from themselves, their supporters (friends and family), and their coaches.

Swimming is intense, it’s difficult, and it requires a lot of dedication, perhaps more so than any other sport.

There’s a reason why so many elite swimmers encounter burnout or face a myriad of mental health issues. Take Michael Phelps, for example; the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time struggled with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for years while in the pool, later opening up about his struggles which inevitably helped others. Whether part of the problem was burnout or not, it signifies a serious issue for competitive swimmers and other athletes.

Then there’s Simone Manuel, a professional American swimmer who revealed her burnout diagnosis back in 2021. And let’s not forget the countless other swimmers who are unable to reveal their burnout as they risk losing sponsorship or a spot on the team.

So, this blog post will discuss swimming and burnout in more detail — what burnout is, what causes it, and how to avoid burnout in swimmers.

What is athletic burnout in swimming?

Athletic burnout is seen as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s typically met with a mix of symptoms such as a lack of motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and even withdrawal from sport. 

One study takes it a step further, saying: “burnout in swimming is characterised by mental and physical exhaustion, a devaluation of swimming, and successes often become less meaningful.”

But why are swimmers most at risk? According to one study, individual sports presented a higher risk of burnout and other depressive symptoms. Furthermore, competitive swimmers typically dive into the pool and begin training anywhere from the ages of seven to twelve.

From a very young age, swimmers put in two-plus-hour training sessions multiple times a week. Often, it starts off as fun or, for Phelps, a way to burn off extra energy. But for many swimmers, it can be challenging to know why they started in the first place. 

It’s a sport that demands an excessive time and energy commitment, with those wearing the goggles and performing laps left to their own thoughts. You can likely already see why burnout is a risk and is perhaps more common than it should be.

What causes burnout in swimmers?

It’s rare that you’ll hear the term burnout spoken of without the mention of overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining syndrome is when an athlete engages in excessive exercise with inadequate rest and recovery, increasing their risk of burnout, but also physical injury. Stress also plays a key role — stress is essential for adaptation, but too much stress can contribute to overtraining and burnout. The stress can be out of the pool, too. For example, it could be academic pressures, family issues, or other social demands. 

It’s when the stress gets too high (physical and emotional) that an athlete is at risk of both overtraining and burnout, as mentioned by Dr Ralph Richards, former swim coach and sports scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport.

The more we understand the risk factors and what causes burnout in swimmers, the easier it is for coaches and athletes to counter it.

How to avoid athletic burnout in swimming 

There are numerous ways for coaches and swim athletes to avoid burnout in swimming.

Typically, the athlete will display signs of burnout and overtraining in training — this is likely to manifest as a decrease in training performance for 1 week or longer. It’s vital that the coach and athlete react to the symptoms early to prevent injury or a more serious case of burnout.

So, what can they do?

  • Ensure good communication between the coach and athlete
  • Create individualised training programs for swim athletes 
  • Increase training loads in a progressive manner 
  • Maintain variety and keep it fun
  • Include activities that ensure success

Continue reading to find out more about each prevention strategy. 

Ensure good communication 

As Dr Ralph Richards mentions, it’s important to ensure good communication between the coach and athlete. 

The swim athlete should feel comfortable with the coach — able to tell them if they feel a lack of motivation, confidence, or other risk factors associated with burnout.

But the same should be true for the coach-athlete relationship — the coach should be aware of the athlete’s performance and know when there’s an increased risk of burnout.

Good communication allows for early detection of burnout, making treatment easier.

Create individualised training programs for swim athletes

No two athletes are created the same in the pool or in any other sport — some athletes respond better to more intense training than others.

So, when creating a swim training plan, coaches should create these with each athlete in mind. It’s no good prescribing a dozen high-intensity intervals for an athlete who responds better to slightly less volume but equal intensity.

Also, if possible, the athlete should be involved when creating the training plan.

Increase training loads in a progressive manner

It’s the age-old rule for any type of training — progressive training is key to avoiding injury and burnout.

A good training plan should become progressively more difficult as the season goes on. Likewise, it’s important to include periods of low-intensity training and rest to ensure proper physical and mental recovery from the previous season or swim meets.

Maintain variety and keep it fun 

Even if you’re competing for Olympic gold, you should be having fun in training. Granted, not every training session in the pool will be enjoyable — but there should be one or two sessions that you look forward to.

This will pique your interest and keep you motivated for training.

Include activities that ensure success

And finally, the coach should include activities and training sessions in a swim athlete’s training plan that ensures success.

The cognitive appraisal model is all about stress — how an athlete interprets an event or situation and whether they see it as stressful. If an athlete has had success in similar events, then they are likely to see the situation as less stressful, reducing the overall stress load. 

This is important because cognitive appraisal is seen as an important variable in athletes experiencing burnout, as found in a 2017 study. By adding these periods of success, you can build up the confidence in swim athletes, reducing their overall stress levels and risk of burnout.

Use Rewire to combat stress and burnout 

Whether you’re a swimmer, a triathlete, a cyclist, or anything in-between, you’re at risk of burnout. However, if you can reduce stress and better control your immediate environment, then you can likely reduce your risk of burnout.

Begin using the Rewire Fitness app today for free and begin mental training to help combat burnout and reduce stress.

Interested in finding out more about burnout? Read our guide on athlete burnout and how to prevent it

Check out our podcast episode with Joe Fuggle as he shares his personal experience with burnout as a former elite GB athlete.


References:

Campbell, T.S., Johnson, J.A. and Zernicke, K.A., 2013. Cognitive appraisal. Encyclopedia of behavioral medicine, pp.442-442.

Gomes, A.R., Faria, S. and Vilela, C., 2017. Anxiety and burnout in young athletes: The mediating role of cognitive appraisal. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 27(12), pp.2116-2126.

Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek). https://memberdesq.sportstg.com/assets/console/customitem/attachments/burnout-rrichards.pdf

Kreher, J.B. and Schwartz, J.B., 2012. Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports health, 4(2), pp.128-138.

Martin, J., Byrd, B., Hew-Butler, T. and Moore, E.W.G., 2021. A longitudinal study on the psychological and physiological predictors of burnout in NCAA collegiate swimmers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, pp.1-17.

Nixdorf, I., Beckmann, J. and Nixdorf, R., 2019. Prevention of burnout and depression in junior elite swimmers. In Mental health and well-being interventions in sport (pp. 31-44). Routledge.


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Is Athletic Burnout More Than Just Stress?

It could be more than stress – you could be tip-toeing your way to burnout.

Whatever it is, just know that it’s completely normal to feel stressed from time to time.

Do you feel a lack of interest in your sport? Maybe lapses of motivation, increased stress, or little drive to participate or compete in a sport you once loved? If so, you could be experiencing what is known as “athletic burnout.” 

Athletic burnout is described as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s often accompanied by a lack of motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and in some cases, the need to withdraw from sporting activity, as stated in a 2007 study.

It’s common for burnout and stress to intertwine, especially in the workplace and in our personal lives. And it’s certainly possible for burnout to find its way into your training. So watch out, burnout stress is lurking around many corners, but there’s a difference between stress and burnout, especially when it comes to sports.

So, this blog post will explain more about stress and athletic burnout – how they are connected and what you can do to better manage your stress levels.

Burnout and stress – where’s the link? 

A good amount of research on athletic burnout suggests chronic stress to be a key driving factor behind burnout. 

The American College of Sports Medicine mentioned the physical, emotional, and academic pressures University and college-level athletes encounter regarding burnout. For example, student-athletes commonly miss lectures, are exposed to social isolation, limited privacy, inadequate recovery, the pressure to perform, the list goes on…

These physical and emotional stressors may contribute to athletic burnout – creating a link between stress and more severe burnout symptoms. Other researchers suggest that burnout is more than a side effect of chronic stress. 

Similarly, world-leading sports sociologist, Coakley, argues that stress is not the cause of burnout – it is a symptom. Other academics also view burnout as a result of entrapment in sports. 

Entrapment occurs when athletes no longer want to participate in their sport, but feel like they have to. This is more common in youth athletes – perhaps continuing to swim or run track to achieve a scholarship or to impress their peers, parents, or coaches.

The integrated model of athlete burnout

Many theories and models have described burnout and its association with stress, entrapment, and personality factors.

Trying to understand the main cause of athletic burnout when there are so many theories and models can be confusing. So, Gustaffson and colleagues created the integrated model of athlete burnout to best represent the many causes of burnout in sport.

Image credit: Gustaffson and colleagues – I’ve linked the paper in the image. I’ll also include a link below to the figure as a png.

The integrated model of athlete burnout takes into account the most popular explanations for burnout in sports. This combined model of burnout helps us better understand how different stressors and other factors out of our control may contribute to burnout, eventually leading to maladaptive consequences such as withdrawal and a performance decline. 

How to identify athlete burnout

There are a few telltale signs of athletic burnout that you should look out for. These symptoms may include:

  • Mood disturbances
  • A lack of motivation
  • Increased stress
  • A decrease in performance

You may also have other symptoms that go beyond stress – a sign that it’s more than a single episode of stress.

What are the side effects of athletic burnout? 

Athletic burnout is unique to the individual. But there are a few common side effects of burnout that many athletes encounter, such as:

  • Withdrawal from sport
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Depression
  • A further lack of motivation

Read our blog post on how to prevent athlete burnout for further tips and actionable strategies to help you beat burnout.

How to treat athletic burnout

It’s not uncommon for athletic burnout to go undetected. Often, athletes do not speak about stress, and how they’re feeling emotionally with their coaches, peers, or even parents. For many athletes, there’s too much at risk. And for others, they don’t know why they’re feeling how they do, whether that’s lapses in motivation, increased fatigue, or one of the many other burnout symptoms.

So, how do you treat it? The main way to overcome athlete burnout is to rest – taking time off from your sport to fully recover. However, you can also manage your emotional fatigue and stress to better understand when you are at a higher risk of burnout.

You may also consider adding stress relief sessions to your daily routine to better cope with stress, increasing relaxation when you need it most, whether after a challenging training session or a long day. If you are reading on mobile, you can complete the Rewire Fitness stress relief session here. On average Rewire users report a 70% decrease in stress after completing a 2 minute session.

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So, the big question: is athletic burnout more than just stress?

Burnout and stress have some correlation. However, whether stress is the cause of burnout or a symptom remains academically challenged. But we do know this: managing your stress, emotional fatigue, and controlling your immediate environment is likely to help prevent burnout. And if you’re looking for immediate stress relief, you may want to check out our blog post on 5-10 breathing

Start using the Rewire Fitness app today for free and begin mental training to help combat burnout and reduce stress.

FAQs

What are the signs of athletic burnout?

Telltale signs of athletic burnout include a lack of motivation, mood disturbances, increased stress, and a performance decrease.

What does sport burnout feel like?

Sport burnout is often described as physical and emotional exhaustion. You may also experience a reduced sense of accomplishment and less interest in your sport.

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

Burnout recovery varies from person to person. It can takes weeks or months to fully recover from burnout. 

References:

Coakley, J., 1992. Burnout among adolescent athletes: A personal failure or social problem?. Sociology of sport journal, 9(3), pp.271-285.

Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek).

Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G. and Hassmén, P., 2011. Athlete burnout: An integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), pp.3-24.

Raedeke, T.D., 1997. A sport commitment perspective. Journal of sport & exercise psychology, 19, pp.396-417.
The American College of Sports Medicine. 2021. The American College of Sports Medicine Statement on Mental Health Challenges for Athletes. [online] Available at: <https://www.acsm.org/news-detail/2021/08/09/the-american-college-of-sports-medicine-statement-on-mental-health-challenges-for-athletes> [Accessed 8 October 2022].


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Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief: How to Do 5-10 Breathing

Here’s how a simple belly breathing exercise can help reduce stress.

Do you currently feel stressed or overwhelmed? Maybe you feel an intense pressure at work, or maybe you’ve just had a newborn, you’re not getting enough sleep, and you’re feeling more stressed than ever?

Whatever it is, just know that it’s completely normal to feel stressed from time to time.

Stress is the body’s response to pressure. When we feel threatened, our bodies produce the fight-or-flight response. And while this helps us respond quickly to life-threatening situations, experiencing too much fight or flight in our daily lives can have various detrimental side effects.

But as already mentioned, some level of stress is normal. Besides, it shows you care about your work, family, or other commitments.

So, how do you better control and manage stress? This blog post will explain a type of diaphragmatic breathing and other tips to help you reduce stress and focus on what matters most.

How common is stress?

The Mental Health Foundation reported a staggering 74% of people felt so stressed they were unable to cope and felt overwhelmed. The study consisted of an online poll of 4,619 respondents in the UK.

The reasons for feeling stressed varied. But common causes included:

  • A health condition or health concern
  • Financial stress
  • Appearance and body image stressors 
  • Housing worries
  • Pressure to succeed 

These are just a few of the many stressors found in today’s society. But there are plenty of other reasons to feel stressed.

Maybe you feel undertrained for your first marathon, you feel stressed about riding your road bike on the road for the first time, or perhaps the demands of working long hours into the evening are finally affecting your mental and emotional capacity. 

What are the side effects of stress?

While stress can be useful in small doses, and in the right situations, most of the time, we’d prefer not to be stressed…

You may even find yourself stressing about being stressed – if this sounds like you, then you may benefit from guided breathing exercises for stress relief.

But what are the side effects of stress? According to Mind, If you commonly experience stress, you may feel:

  • Irritable or angry
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious, nervous, or afraid
  • Depressed
  • Neglected or lonely
  • Unable to enjoy yourself 
  • Like your mind is racing 

These are just a few of the many side effects. There are also more short-term side effects that you may encounter, such as difficulty breathing, panic attacks, problems sleeping, stomach issues, intense sweating, and more.

Tackling your source of stress is crucial. Maybe that means taking on fewer projects at work, asking for a helping hand, or adding a rest day to your training to unwind and decompress.

You can also try breathing exercises for stress – there are a ton of sessions you can try on the Rewire app.

If you feel stressed and you’re experiencing a mix of side effects that are negatively impacting your day-to-day life, then you might benefit from a visit to a healthcare professional.

Breathing exercises for stress

Breathing exercises, specifically slow breathing exercises, promote comfort and relaxation and reduce symptoms of anxiety, confusion, anger, and even depression, as stated in a 2018 study

Adding breathing exercises to your daily routine can help combat stress.

You don’t need to perform these at the same time every day, either. You can do breathing exercises for stress when you need them most.

Alternatively, you can also try guided meditation and breathing exercises, usually done first thing in the morning or right before bed.

The 5-10 breathing exercise 

5-10 breathing is a form of diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing – this is where you inhale through your nose and exhale out through your mouth.

This breathing exercise for stress relief sends signals to your brain and nervous system to help reduce stress and other emotional responses (anxiety, fear, etc.) . In particular, it’s the long exhale that activates the parasympathetic nervous system (and deactivates the sympathetic nervous system) to calm the body down. It may take a little while to get used to, but with a little practice and the helping hand of our guided session, you’ll be on your way to a less stressful day. 

So, how do you do it?

Inhale through your nose to the count of five and exhale through your mouth to the count of ten. That’s one breath.

Repeat as needed – typically, you want to perform this exercise for at least 2 minutes to feel the full effect.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing include improved cognitive performance and reduced stress. It may also lower your blood pressure and heart rate.

It’s a relatively easy breathing exercise to learn and can be done anywhere, making it a great tool for stress relief when you need it most. 

The Rewire mindfulness and recovery protocol for stress relief 

The Rewire app contains a mix of mindfulness and recovery protocols that use breathing exercises and binaural beats to help facilitate certain emotional responses, whether that’s stress relief, improved focus, or relaxation.

We have a few stress relief sessions on the Rewire app, but the guided stress relief session is our most popular session for stress reduction – more on this below. 

Mindset Recovery – Stress Relief

The Rewire stress relief guided recovery session uses the 5-10 breathing technique and 2 Hz binaural beats to help alleviate stress and achieve a calm state of mind. On average, Rewire users report a 70% decrease in stress after a 2-minute session.

It takes less than 4 minutes to do, can be done anywhere, and will leave you feeling less stressed.

If you have Rewire downloaded on your mobile device, tap here to try ‘stress relief’. 

Reduce stress with Rewire Fitness

Rewire can help you combat stress to improve your day-to-day life.
Start using the Rewire Fitness app for free to help reduce stress when you need it most. Take control of your emotional response and improve your day-to-day well-being and stress levels, increasing presence and allowing you to focus on what matters most.


References:

Gerritsen, R.J. and Band, G.P., 2018. Breath of life: the respiratory vagal stimulation model of contemplative activity. Frontiers in human neuroscience, p.397.

Ma, X., Yue, Z.Q., Gong, Z.Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.Y., Shi, Y.T., Wei, G.X. and Li, Y.F., 2017. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, p.874.

Mental Health Foundation. n.d. Stress: statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/mental-health-statistics/stress-statistics> [Accessed 1 October 2022].

Mind. 2022. Signs and symptoms of stress. [online] Available at: <https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/signs-and-symptoms-of-stress/> [Accessed 1 October 2022].

Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B. and Gemignani, A., 2018. How breath-control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, p.353.


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The Worst Habits for Your Brain

Our habits directly relate to our brain health. Habits allow us to complete daily tasks without having to think about them too much. A study in 2020 showed that habits can be controlled right at the start when we introduce them into our lifestyle.

These are some of the worst habits for Brain Health:

1. Unhealthy sleep habits

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Research has shown that adults need about 7 hours of quality sleep for optimal health. Good sleep habits include reducing bright light before bed, ensuring a balanced diet, and implementing an evening routine.

Effects of not getting enough sleep:

  • Affects memory
  • Decreases brain health
  • Harms the heart
  • Reduces ability to focus

2. Sitting too much

Despite an active lifestyle, sitting for prolonged periods of time has a negative impact on brain and metabolic health. However, most adults don’t have the time to focus on more exercise, so here are some easy habits to introduce to avoid sitting too much during the day:

  • Stand up when you call someone
  • Take the stairs
  • Walk around while brushing your teeth
  • Get up and refill your water glass
  • If sitting at a desk for work, stand up and walk around every hour
  • Dance more often

3. The wrong foods

Do you start your day with orange juice? There are about 20 grams of sugar in an average glass of orange juice and research has shown that high-sugar diets can lead to a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function.

For some top tips on what foods to eat, check out our article on foods to fight fatigue.

4. Chronic stress

There is an abundance of studies that have shown the impact of stress hormones, including a decline in attention, memory, and emotion processing. The good news is that there are models that suggest developing “early stress interventions” can counteract the effects of chronic stress on brain health.

Some habits to help counteract the impact of chronic stress:

  • A diet high in antioxidants (some great sources include beets, sweet potatoes, and strawberries)
  • Daily physical exercise
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Build mental resilience (like Rewire’s Neuro-Training)

Neuro-Training works by targeting the part of the brain that is responsible for managing fatigue and willpower.

Benefits include:

  • More energy
  • Increased recovery speed
  • Improve mental resilience and athletic performance

Users of the Rewire App have reported a decrease in stress of 74.1%.

5. Negative mindset

Research has shown that negative thoughts can trigger a stress response and a prolonged negative mindset has been linked to cognitive decline. Want to implement habits to improve your brain health? Check out our article on the best habits for your brain here!

Visualization and self-talk can help us avoid dwelling on the negative and instead create a more positive habit. For example, visualization can improve athletic performance because they act as a sort of mental rehearsal, which can train the mind to act in real life as we imagine it.

Rewire’s Mindset Recovery system includes evidence-based protocols to promote mind/body recovery, improve mindset, manage stress and prepare for training and competition. This system includes tools such as visualization and self-talk. Check out an overview of Mindset Recovery here.

Are you ready to improve your brain health? Try Rewire to give Neuro-Training and Mindset Recovery a go!

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Sources

Crego, A.C.G., Štoček, F., Marchuk, A.G., Carmichael, J.E., van der Meer, M.A.A. and Smith, K.S. (2020). Complementary Control over Habits and Behavioral Vigor by Phasic Activity in the Dorsolateral Striatum. The Journal of Neuroscience, 40(10), pp.2139–2153.‌

CDC (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/.‌

Owen, N., Healy, G.N., Matthews, C.E. and Dunstan, D.W. (2010). Too Much Sitting. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, [online] 38(3), pp.105–113. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/.‌

Magnusson, K.R., Hauck, L., Jeffrey, B.M., Elias, V., Humphrey, A., Nath, R., Perrone, A. and Bermudez, L.E. (2015). Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience, [online] 300, pp.128–140. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25982560/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2021].

Lupien, S.J., Juster, R.-P., Raymond, C. and Marin, M.-F. (2018). The effects of chronic stress on the human brain: From neurotoxicity, to vulnerability, to opportunity. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 49, pp.91–105.‌‌

Marchant, N.L., Lovland, L.R., Jones, R., Pichet Binette, A., Gonneaud, J., Arenaza‐Urquijo, E.M., Chételat, G. and Villeneuve, S. (2020). Repetitive negative thinking is associated with amyloid, tau, and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s & Dementia.‌

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The High-Pressure Lifestyle of an Elite Athlete and the Techniques used to Combat Stress

An athlete’s life is fairly unique when compared to the general population. Apart from the obvious exchange of a suit for a tracksuit, their objectives are different too. For many athletes, their efforts accumulate and build up to a major event at the end of a cycle. This could be the Olympics or World Cup every four years or a league final at the end of a year. In this crucial event, it is imperative that they perform to the best of their ability. Their performance on that day not only affects them but also all those that have helped them get to that point: coaches, sponsors, family, support staff and fans all rely on their success to varying degrees in addition to the athlete themselves.

An athlete needs to be at peak health at all times. This means complete focus on everything that they put into and do to their body. Training routines and nutrition plans are regimented and there are limited opportunities to relax this. Lots of sleep is needed to ensure recovery in order to perform and benefit from the next day of training. This regimented lifestyle as well as the reliance from others creates an inevitable sense of pressure. And from pressure comes stress. As they approach a big event an athlete needs focus, and stress does not always help the athlete achieve this.

Whilst sports psychologists might be in place, some things can simply impede performance. Be that impending parenthood, illness, or the death of a loved one. We’ve seen this before, in the 2016 Australian Open Final, Andy Murray looked visibly distracted and lost in straight sets. Why? His wife, Kim, was about to give birth to their first child, whilst he was on the other side of the world. These kinds of distractions can be almost impossible to resist, and whilst it is more than understandable to be distracted by the idea of imminently becoming a father, we can still look for ways of keeping focus even at the most challenging of times.

In his autoethnography, Bradford Cooper talks about the mental toughness needed to overcome setbacks and frustrations during the Race Across America in which he was part of a 2-man team. These setbacks included needing to cover his teammate’s night pull after just after coming off a 5-hour pull, as well as being given the wrong directions by his daughter and having to turn round to get back on track. These kinds of setbacks cause frustration, mental fatigue and stress but with the right training, the effects of it can be minimized.

To stay in control in times of pressure and stress, athletes spend time practising mindfulness. Mindfulness practices help an athlete stay in control at times when they need it most. It has been shown that by practising meditation, stress levels can be reduced allowing for increased focus and concentration. Those regularly using meditation have also been shown to have improved sleep including more time spent in deep sleep and increased hormone release allowing for better recovery. Athletes also benefit from spending time during mindfulness to visualise success and create goals, allowing in turn for increased motivation and work ethic to develop their athletic performance. A recent study also showed that the use of binaural beats helps to counteract the effects of mental fatigue. Their findings demonstrate that binaural beats are an effective technique alongside mindfulness at enhancing cognitive control.

Practising mindfulness can help an athlete get into the ‘flow’, which is poetically described by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of being ‘completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’ This is a state we have likely all experienced at some point in our life, where we become incredibly productive. Whilst this state might come and go naturally with motivation, practising mindfulness allows us to maintain a state of ‘flow’ for longer. The benefits of being in this state to an athlete are evident, with the athlete being in an optimal state to train and reap the resulting benefits whilst total focus is devoted to improving performance.

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Further Reading:

‘Changing Existence into Flow’
Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi

‘On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue
Johanne Lundager Axelsen, Ulrich Kirk & Walter Staiano 
Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 2020

‘Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep’
Ravindra P. Nagendra, Nirmala Maruthai & Bindu M. Kutty
Frontiers in Neurology, 2012

‘The Rise of Superman’
Steven Kotler

‘A 3000-mile tour of mental toughness: An autoethnographic exploration of mental toughness intra-individual variability in endurance sport’
K. Bradford Cooper, Mark R. Wilson & Martin I. Jones
International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2018

‘Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density’
Hölzel et al.
Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging, 2011

‘Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat.’
Jacobs et al.
Health Psychology, 2013