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Mental health: let’s think positively

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Mental health is a big issue right now, with many sports people, musicians, artists and other people in the limelight letting us in on their own previously secret insecurities and mental health issues.

Reframing the mental health debate

Today, we turn that discussion on its head and look at mental health in the positive sense. How do you train your brain to become as mentally healthy as it is possible to be? Rather than focusing on the negative “this is what poor mental health did to me”, let’s take a look at the positive: “my strong mental health allowed me to ….”

While much of the following discussion relates to sporting environments, it is also equally applicable in the multiple spheres of work, educaiotn, training or life skills.

How to deal with uncertainty?

As humans we crave security and predictability but life has a way of throwing up the unexpected. When it is poorly managed, uncertainty can lead to fear. In the sports field, just as in any other sphere or life, fear can act as a disabler. There are three steps you can take to limit or dispel the negative impact of uncertainty.

Prevent uncertainty creeping in.
Prepare as thoroughly as you can. For example, if you are training for a 10k race, don’t leave your training until the last minute. Feel comfortable with the distance and confident that you can run that far. Ensure your shoes fit, the clothes you will run in don’t rub and, if you feel the need, take a look at the course before race day.

Manage it.
Obviously the unexpected might occur but you can develop a mantra or a set of automatic actions to fall back on. Focus on what you can control. For example, imagine the bus taking you to the start of your race is held up in traffic. You can still do a warm up on the bus, so when you arrive at the start line, you feel you have gone through your routine.

Grow from it.
Rather than seeing uncertainty as a bad thing, see yourself learning from it. Okay, things didn’t go to plan on this occasion, but what have I learnt from this experience. An example might be a tennis match, during which the sun was at a difficult angle. You will never turn up for your match without a hat again.

Turn anxiety into excitement

We all have nerves and stress before a race or an event. Tell yourself: “I am excited and my body is primed and ready to perform”. This is far more beneficial than the little voice in your head that says: “I’m anxious, I need to calm down or I will not perform”.

By heightening our perception, we shift our brain and body into a ‘readiness’ mode. By trying to calm the nerves, the signal we are sending our brain is that something is wrong. Try to reframe the mindset so anxiety becomes a positive factor.

Focus on the process

England football fans will have heard coach Gareth Southgate talking about “owning the process”. By this, he means thinking about the continuous learning and progress that the squad is making. This can apply to anyone. Rather than focussing on the outcome, such as a finishing time or a position in the race and think instead about how you improved upon your last performance. Did you run quicker time, did you avoid cramp at the five mile mark, did you get your water and food intake right? Think about success as your own growth and progress over time.

By employing these three tactics, you can turn uncertainty and doubt into excitement and belief.