Athletes love the cliché “control the controllables”. It offers solid ground in uncertain times like the present pandemic: shrink your focus to the things within your sphere of influence. But in our experience, trying to control small things in an attempt to manage the anxiety stemming from a lack of control in the rest of your life can be disastrous. Just because you can control something, doesn’t mean you always should.
As athletes — people who obsessively plan our lives around training and competition — how can we manage in this uncertain landscape, this limbo world where everything is on indefinite hold? Athletes are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues than the general public, so we need to be especially mindful of the added stress this period will bring.
In this four-part series, we’ll share the thought patterns and techniques we are using to deal with and adapt to our new reality, which are all based around the theme of relinquishing control. We’ll look at everything: competition, travel, social media, re-writing long-term plans, even ways to understand the danger signs that you or someone close to you is developing an unhealthy relationship to food or exercise.
We’re elite athletes that live and breathe competitive running — of different distances and on entirely different terrains — who have both been significantly affected by the virus. Catriona is the Australian 800m champion and record holder aiming to defend her national title (cancelled) and make an Olympic debut (postponed). Simone is the 2018/2019 Australian Mountain Running Champion going for a third national title (potentially postponed or cancelled) and working towards a debut Mountain Running World Cup season in Europe (postponed).
Equally importantly, we’ve experienced mental ill-health and want to use our knowledge to have an open conversation about COVID-19 and sport. For years, we’ve walked the line between healthy and unhealthy relationships with food and exercise in the pursuit of controlling our bodies, performances, and lives. In the moment, when you’re the one in the fire, feeling out of control, taking it out on yourself can be all too easy to do. The ability to take a step back, survey the situation, and make decisions based not on fleeting feelings but on long-standing future values — that is the goal.
The actions we’ll explore relating to redirecting or relinquishing control:
Before we dive into these topics: if you need support now, you aren’t the only one — and there are so many resources out there:
Note: The above list is specifically for Australians.
Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as ‘struggling’, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and many of these services have simple tips for staying well as well as getting help. Try one, and if that doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged from trying another. It’s important to find the support that works for you, and it can take time and multiple attempts.
Now, it’s all well and good being told where to turn, but navigating the services and accessing them properly can be difficult.
In response to the pandemic, the Australian government has implemented a package to boost mental health service funding and made sure we’re able to access telehealth services bulk-billed. This means that you can see a psychologist or psychiatrist via phone or video consultation and have no out-of-pocket costs.
Here’s the process we suggest to gain access to a telehealth psychologist as smoothly as possible if you’re brand new to the system:
Never hesitate to use any of these services early if you’re at all in doubt. Best case scenario: it wasn’t necessarily needed but provides a level of safety, as well as referrals to more suitable service. Worst case scenario: it saves a life. Having called helplines and seen mental health professionals many times before, we can’t stress this enough: if in doubt, make the call.
We hope this provides you with some food for thought and places to go to start the journey of navigating life with all the restrictions and changes COVID-19 has placed on us. We’re not medical professionals but we’ve been in consultation with them for a decade, and have real-life experience in putting their advice to use.
Stay home, stay safe, and next time you see or hear “control the controllables”, remember that that’s just one way to navigate now — not the only way, and not always the healthy way.
In a world where many of us try to control every little thing in our lives to keep up with the changes around us, realising and sitting with how little we do in fact have control over — relinquishing the attempt to manipulate and learning to go with the flow — could be the best thing to happen to us in terms of personal progress. Just try it and see what you learn.
Until next time,
Trina & Sim
This series was supported by Revvies Energy.