The Covid-19 outbreak has caused disruption across the world in all walks of life. Many individuals have had their lives turned upside down by loss of earnings, health, freedom and loss of routine. This is particularly true in the football community, with fixtures halted, uncertainty surrounding player’s futures, physical and mental fitness and lack of social interaction. An accumulation of these factors can have an impact on players’ anxiety.
In my experience working with footballers in a mental health setting I have observed many players who have developed healthy coping skills while training and playing competitively. Coping mechanisms that help them manage difficult times during their careers for example dealing with injury, not being played and the uncertainty of contract renewal to name but a few. All these situations require a player to draw on their mental fitness to enable them to adjust to the situation.
The current situation with Covid-19 will call on all the mental fitness and resilience that you have in reserve to gain personal growth from the restrictions during the pandemic.
At present the Government is asking everyone to
- make only necessary journeys i.e. to shops or pharmacies,
- remain socially distant from people at least 2metres
- wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face with your hands
- exercise within a 2km zone of your home
All these measures will assist in flattening the curve which is essential for our return to normality. It is also important to look after your mental health. Mental Health has no respect for status or standing, and the consequences of poor mental health can be devastating when it strikes. Your mental health is as important as your physical health.
How to look after your mental health in the current climate?
->Manage Stress/anxiety levels -Stress is a feeling of abnormal pressure. We all experience normal levels of stress from time to time. You may currently be experiencing abnormal stress, which basically is a high level of ongoing stress that can be caused by circumstances outside of your control. Recognising your stress is the first step in reducing your stress.
->Communication – While maintaining social distance, don’t withdraw from those you live with and keep contact with teammates and support staff. You are part of a team who are all going through what you are going through perhaps at different times but they will get it like others won’t.
->Keep Active – Training outdoors (within permitted 2km limit) has many benefits over gym work. Exercising outdoors helps reduce anxiety and improve mood. This may mean changing the type of exercise you normally do.
->Routine – Footballers thrive on routine. Introduce routine into your day. Plan your day as you would when you were training with your team. Ideally getting up at the same time every morning. Ensure that you do not spend long periods of time watching the news or following negative feeds on social media. This will bring your mood down. Limit your news to once a day for no more than 30 minutes.
->Goal Setting – Envisage the type of player you want to be when Covid-19 has passed. This for some may mean changing goals or pushing goals out to a later date. For others it may mean setting goals for the very first time. Remember thinking positively also means thinking realistically.
->Reflection – Take time to reflect on your career to date. Recall all the highlights of your career. This may mean looking at old videos and photos or talking to those who have been on this journey with you.
->Name the feeling – You most likely will, or perhaps already have experienced a range of emotions related to the doubts about the future, health, football etc. This is normal at this stage. Being aware of an emotion makes them easier to manage. Emotions will come and go, even the good ones. By identifying the unpleasant emotions it can become easier to accept and regulate them “this too will pass”.
->Ideally keeping a record of events or circumstances that cause positive emotions will help build resilience over the coming days and weeks. Resilience is our bounce back ability in the face of hardship. Being resilient can minimize the effects of negative stressful situations on or off the pitch.
->Sleep – Ensuring that you get enough sleep. A busy mind and tired body will not lead to a beneficial sleep. If you find sleeping difficult try writing your thoughts down before going to sleep. Limit the amount of TV and phone usage before going to sleep. Using apps such as Headspace and Calms or guided meditation can also help induce sleep.
Finally, the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland provide a confidential mental
health service for members who need it. At present sessions are provided remotely through Skype/Zoom/facetime and phone calls. It’s important that players are aware of this service so they don’t feel isolated and hold onto things by themselves. You don’t need to wait until you can’t manage before engaging in therapy, by engaging in therapy it will assist in preventing you from getting to the point of not being able to manage.
Mary Larkin MSc (MNAPCP)
Mental Health Professional
Football is the beautiful game but it is also a tough game that makes huge demands on its players.