Looking after yourself: The importance of self-care for sport psychologists
The last 12 months has been a challenging time for athletes, coaches, and sport psychologists alike. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted upon our liberty, social engagement, and the opportunities we have had to engage in a diverse range of enjoyable and relaxing activities. Over this time sport psychologists globally have worked hard to support athletes, coaches, family and friends to cope with the challenges faced, and the increased experience of negative emotions and low mood. Many sports, particularly at a professional or elite level, have worked hard to support the mental health of their athletes and coaches with sport psychologists an important cog in that wheel. Speaking to fellow practitioners though there has been less emphasis both by organisations, and crucially by sport psychologists themselves in looking out for their own wellbeing.
Like many other members of the community sport psychologists have seen a reduction in their available coping resources and support mechanisms over this time. Much of the social support provided previously has been diminished compared to usual due to a range of factors including limited face-to-face contact and increased stress and worry amongst family and friends. In addition, we have all had increased stress levels due to the feelings related to the pandemic, and restrictions to our freedom of movement. As a result, more than ever it is crucial that us as sport psychologists are pro-active in making sure we engage in appropriate self-care behaviours.
At this time, it is crucial that sport psychologists practice what they preach and lead the way in demonstrating health self-care behaviours. Making sure we ‘take a break’ is important, working from home in front of your computer can definitely have some benefits, but one of the major drawbacks is spending too much time on screen and on video calls, with limited breaks. Making sure we build in time away from the screen and getting up and moving is really important. Also, making sure we are making time for regular physical activity is also crucial, whether this is going out for a walk, gardening or doing a virtual exercise class (if you can’t go to the gym or play team sports) we have to make sure we keep moving.
As sport psychologists we have a whole tool kit of techniques we advocate to others to help them to manage emotions, to positively impact upon their mood, manage their thoughts, deal with pressure and engage positively with other people. So, working on the ‘practicing what we preach’ idea we can use these tools positively on ourselves. This might be positive psychology-focused techniques such as keeping a gratitude journal, keeping a thoughts journal, or kindness interventions. Taking some time for ourselves is also important, whether that is watching Netflix, doing mindfulness colouring, gardening, playing computer games, or making something it is important to engage in non-work focused activities to help us to cope and retain balance. It is also possible to use techniques such as mindfulness and meditation to help us to control our thoughts and levels of feeling and self-awareness. We might even choose to engage the services of a fellow psychologist or counsellor to have the opportunity to share and offload.
There is much we can do take care of ourselves indeed we are literally experts in providing this guidance to the athletes we work with. The really important step to take though is to take the time and to deliberately focus on ourselves and to develop and implement a plan to make sure we are taking care of ourselves. A step which will ultimately increase our state of wellbeing and will, in turn, also increase the quality of service we provide to our clients.
If you have thoughts or comments, please add a comment below and share your thoughts and experiences.