From Victim to Victor: The Overlooked Corner of Mental Health
By: Dhru Shah — Impaction Community Member and Sales And Marketing Specialist at Let’s Empower, Advocate, and Do, Inc. (LEAD)
In my experience working with rehabilitation patients who were athletes in their younger years, I learned of the sports injuries that affected them later in life. I learned that knee replacements were not always a result of years of physical inactivity, but due to over-exercise, especially without proper rest and rehabilitation. Approximately, 50% of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse and over-training. Over-training and athlete burnout are also strongly correlated to mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and are likely to be correlated with other psychological disorders such as substance misuse, anorexia/bulimia and more. The takeaway from these findings is that patients’ mental and physical well-being are not separate — the body and mind are connected. When athletes face unaddressed mental health challenges, it can critically damage their performance and their health. It’s crucial we do our part in developing a culture of fostering community-resilience through vulnerability. Here are two major reasons for why mental health must be addressed in athletes:
1. BUILDS A VICTIM-TO-VICTOR MENTALITY
Stress is normal and an integral part of sports. Pre-game jitters mean that they are creating an energy to help you execute on that vision. But what happens when you have too much stress? Psychological stress to perform and execute is associated with an increased risk of injury and increased time in rehabilitation before returning to sport. The major sources of these challenges include a fear of failure, concerns about others’ opinions (largely the coach), lack of preparation to perform, and a shift from internal to external locus of control.
In the patients that I worked with, some experienced stress and anxiety when they attempted their physical therapy exercises. This stemmed from years of attempting treatments with little to moderate improvement. To reassure them that further improvement was feasible and within their control, we used various phrases like: “A small improvement is still progress,” or “When the body can begin to relax, the body can begin to heal.” These seemingly obvious phrases help athletes become aware of their intentions to relax their mind so they can focus on healing, instead of rushing their process. Creating this safe space is a small, but powerful step in the healing process. Practiced consistently, this helped patients overcome their own limiting beliefs and shift their focus towards developing a victim-to-victor mentality.
2. BUILDS RESILIENCE
Mental health challenges affecting athletes is often accompanied by athlete burnout. Athlete burnout occurs when an athlete experiences chronic physical exhaustion, a reduced feeling of accomplishment from their performance, and a tendency to give less value to their sport, leading to compromises with engaging in later physical activity. Since these challenges are strongly correlated to mood disorders and other psychological challenges, a supportive community culture surrounding mental health can build resilience between teammates, athletic staff, and friends/family of the athlete. This strengthens bonds between all party members involved in the athletes’ success.
It has also been shown that educating athletes on coping strategies is an effective way to develop resilience. Some of strategies include problem solving, planning ahead to minimize failure, seeking social support, and using imagery to play out a stressful scenario.
As I had mentioned earlier, the patients who had conducted multiple rounds of various treatments with little to no improvement, had also shown signs of quitting throughout their time spent at our clinic. Our clinic had a small but open working space where the rehabilitation aides and patients worked together in small groups or one-on-one with each patient. Patients became friends with one another and encouraged one another during treatments because our care model promoted inclusivity, celebrated progress, and practiced laughter. Many patients began to enjoy their experience coming to our clinic and resisted the urge to quit their treatments. To resist the urge to quit is the turning point of the victim-to-victor mentality.
SO…HOW DOES THIS WORK APPLY TO ME?
Although these resources are for those who work directly with athletes, its critical that everyone develops actionable steps they can take today to help reduce performance stress and build community resilience. Building strong and consistent dialogue that encourages not only athletes, but your loved ones to fail and learn from their mistakes without stressful consequences. This will help them perform better in their daily lives and continuously pursue a sport or career with passion and resilience. Here are three action steps you can take today to help initiate this supportive culture:
- Create an “I am…” statement that turns a negative belief about their performance or capabilities into a positive or neutral one. Repeat this each time you catch them saying their negative beliefs. (Ex. “I am terrible at public speaking.” 🡪 “I am in a transition towards speaking more confidently in front of crowds.”)
- Promote baby steps when you notice an athlete over-training, or a person overworking. Remind them that recovery and rest are both crucial to optimal performance.
- Utilize motivational interviewing to counsel someone to change the behaviors that are preventing them from making healthier choices. Motivational interviewing is an empathetic and short-term process that emphasizes listening more than intervening and can inspire someone make positive behavioral changes for their own self-improvement. Their motivation should come from within themselves.
Key Takeaway: So whether you seek to help an athlete, a family member, or a colleague, communicating that the mind and body are connected and explaining that nourishing this connection is essential towards developing a victim-to-victor mentality will be fundamental to that person’s growth. Wanting to support someone automatically makes you a part of the supportive community that they will need as they push forward in their individual journeys. Though not all of us are licensed mental health professionals, we can implement some of these steps and be a source of positivity and inspiration in someone else’s life. For all we know, seemingly small efforts can make a world of a difference.
“I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.” ― Jana Stanfield
Want to find out more about the positive effects of mental health awareness? Watch our Video Session!
Let’s Empower, Advocate, and Do! Inc. (LEAD) is driven to provide proactive, evidence-based mental health training that improves early intervention. Specifically, LEAD’s Team Mental Health Certification introduces athletes, coaches, and athletic associations to the risk factors, warning signs, and prevalence of mental illness in youth sports. Our Professional Development courses dive deeper into building team resilience, empowering athletes to overcome mental health challenges and “performance anxiety,” and establishing “psychology safety” to catalyze injury recovery, cost-savings, and performance on the field. The long-term development of our athletes requires equal attention on both their physical and social/emotional well-being.
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