Committing to the life of an athlete is a great one. The physical stress and pressure that you subject your body to in hopes of being the best are incomprehensible. But for most of us the challenge of soldiering through practices, and weight lifting and competitions is worth if it results in a respectable finish.
The continued stress on the body and the mind does not come without repercussion. If you are not careful, you will burn out. In some cases, it is at this point where your body says enough and injury occurs. When your body has taken enough of a beating, it will let you know.
What do you do when that happens though?
How do you replenish what you have intentionally destroyed?
Here is why you should keep reading. Through the course of this article, we will review eight self-care practices you can utilize to help you better take care of your mind, body, and spirit.
#1 Take a Break
In some sports, there are natural breaks between competitive seasons. Other times, you have to create your own!
In Track & Field, the High School Indoor Season kicks off just after Thanksgiving and concludes with the National Championship the first week in March. The Outdoor season typically starts the following week. For the elite athlete, these seasons blend into one long season. The caution is preventing burnout. To do so, you need to take a break.
My first season in University turned out to be somewhat of a breakout year for me. Heading into our outdoor season I anticipated competing at our conference championship, maybe regionals then going home around May for the summer. Well a few personal records and a #1 ranking later, I had booked my ticket to the National Championships in June. After the National Championship, I went on to compete and win the US Junior Championships.
Well, you see where I am going with this.
With every successful competition, the season grew longer and longer. My summer at home became a distant memory and before I knew it the following school year was upon me. And off-season training of course, well at least I thought so.
During our post-season debrief my coach informed me I would be taking a two-week break from training. It was the longest two weeks of my life. I was advised to do nothing. Stay away from the track, the weight room, and the training room. I felt like my heart had been ripped out. At the end of that two week period, I remember being hungry. Not for food but to get back to the track, back to training. Taking a break not only refreshed my body physically but mentally I experienced a resurgence too.
Giving yourself the time and space to step away from the sport is crucial to your overall health and your athletic output. Take the time you need to refresh. This may require taking to your coach about your needs. I will warn you; this may be a bit of a tricky situation depending on your coach. Enter the conversation with your needs in mind but willing to consider other solutions that still provide you rest.
#2 Get a Massage or Take a Bath
Most athletics departments offer recovery modalities for athlete use. These items range from foam rollers to Normatec compression boots. In the high school environment such elements are used sparingly, but to the elite athlete, they should be a part of their everyday routine.
At the very least you should check in with your athletic trainer post training to get a flush out of your muscles. Aftercare is equally as important as the work that is accomplished in a training session. Taking the necessary steps to make sure your body is recovered is well worth the investment.
If resources allow I would advise scheduling some time to get a professional massage. In my experience, massages from chain spa’s like massage envy fall short in the area of “deep tissue,” but they were effective in providing an experience. A multi-sensual experience.
An athlete gifted me with a gift card for Massage Envy when I was pregnant. Let me tell you, that was one of the best gifts I had ever received. This athlete could see that I was struggling. She could see that I was rapidly approaching burn-out and she wanted to save me.
I remember the music being slow and calming, and I remember the smell of essential oils. I recall it being darker inside than the actual time of day. I can see the person who greeted me, smiling. The spa’s specialty may not have been deep tissue, but they certainly made a deep impact. Sometimes that is all you need. Just a relaxing environment.
Maybe you don’t have the financial resources to make a monthly massage happen, that’s ok. You can create an equally relaxing experience at home, in your bathroom.The therapist will be absent, but you can set the environment. Use candles for subtle lighting, set a playlist of soothing tunes, splash a couple of drops of essential oils into your bath a voila. You have created your very own spa. Without travel and the tug on your wallet.
What is most important if taking some time for yourself. To be kind to your body.
#3 Start a Meditation Practice
Meditation ironically is becoming a bit of a taboo topic. Strange, I know. While the exact date of meditation’s origin is unknown, it is hypothesized to have been around since 3500- 5000 BCE. Currently, mediation is as widespread as ever before. At its core, meditation is about quieting the mind. While generally, associated with Hindu and Buddhist religions, meditation transcends religion.
Meditation is the act of calling energies into their respective places. As an athlete you grow accustomed to carrying large amounts of energy with you, often negative, and learning how to live with it. Some coaches say it is beneficial for athletes to play from a place of pain, hardship, and despair. To some degree, I agree that on the court of play tragedy can fuel triumph. However, I separate from that line of thinking when the converse rarely is addressed. Addressing the truth that although a negative emotion may have a positive impact on the sport that same emotion is still damaging to the person housing it.
This is why I like meditation. You can take all the control back. You can call your body to calm. You can find comfort in the rhyme of your own breath. There is healing there not hurt. You can release anything that doesn't bring you peace just by breathing.
Meditation can be a powerful tool pre, during and post competition. As an athlete, how many times have your pre-competition jitters affected your level of play? In the midst of intense competition have you been sidelined with anxiety? Post competition have you sat in the locker room replaying your mistakes over and over again? Imagine the impact you could have if you established a meditation routine. It could be a simple as taking five deep breaths where you inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 7. Just consider for a minute all of the moments you might be able to steal back.
If you are interested in learning more about mediation, there are loads of videos on YouTube to help you get started. A few of my favorites are Mediation for Beginners and 7 Tips to MASTER Meditation.
If you want to see something cool watch this Chi Energy video. This guy can heal people and make fire with just his mind!
The last thing I want to mention on the topic of meditation relates to its practicality. You can do it anywhere, and no one would even know. Except for if you joined a large group meditating for world peace like the one led on August 8, 2014, by Deepak Chopra, Gabrielle Bernstein, and India Arie. They set a Guinness World Record that day. Over 100,000 people were meditating together in public. Pretty amazing.
#4 Do Yoga
I know what you are thinking. First, she suggests meditation, and now she wants me to become a Yogi.
You think that I have forgotten who you are and that this post is for you. Hate to break it to you, but you are wrong. I haven’t forgotten about you. This post is just for you. The resistance you are feeling right now is probably, almost certainly, the conviction you feel about not making self-care a priority. Maybe that’s not it at all. Perhaps my suggestions thus far are just not your cup of tea. That’s ok. Keep reading there is coffee.
But for now, back to yoga.
Similar to meditation, yoga allows you the space to quiet your mind. Unlike yoga, it does require some moving.
A common misconception surrounding yoga is that it is this space only for women (and girls) who are super skinny, wear Lululemon and drink way too much Starbucks. False. So False. Yoga was created with you in mind. Me too.
Yoga at it’s purest form is intended to help you be, simply. Be present. Be calm. Be still. Be flexible. Be malleable. Be perfectly comfortable in your imperfection.
I have a girl crush on a creative named Alex Elle. My crush doesn’t stem from a place of intimacy but instead from a place of admiration, creatively. Elle is an writer, botanical skin care owner, wife, mother of two and a human being committed to helping people heal. I’ve got a crush on her because she moves me intellectually. She challenges me to put myself first.
This past summer Elle launched a podcast called, Hey Girl. The podcast was created with sisterhood and storytelling in mind. In the podcast’s second season Elle interviewed yoga instructor Racheal Weathers, and it blew my mind.
In the episode, Weathers shares what brought her to yoga and how yoga is bringing her to new places in her life. Particularly as it relates to self-care and self-worth. You see Weathers does not fit the stereotypical yogi I mentioned earlier. She is a beautifully full-figured natural yogi walking in her truth. One of the major takeaways from her episode was that your yoga practice is what you make it. You set the intention then you stretch your mind, body, and soul to manifest it. I love that.
#5 Treat Yourself To A Pedicure or Do Your Own
Your feet deserve the break. As athletes, your feet take a beating. The constant impact of walking, jumping, hopping, hurdling places massive amounts of stress on your body. The body part that feels it the most, the feet. Not to mention the uncomfortable socks and shoes that they are stuffed in around the clock.
Treating yourself to a pedicure not only is a retreat for your feet but your mind too. I feel like whenever I go to a salon or spa for a pedicure, I must have a sign on my forehead. Honestly, I could have a book, my journal, or even my cell phone out and somehow I always end up engaging in conversation. I wouldn’t say getting a pedicure will result in some quiet time, but at least you can relax a bit and enjoy the pampering.
If you are anything like me, you want to skip the spa altogether. An at-home pedicure could be equally as impactful. Not to mention you get to keep some money in your pocket and conversation to a minimum. Pretty inexpensively you could purchase the necessary tools to have a spa day in the comfort of your own home.
#6 Sleep Routine
Rest. There is nothing more rejuvenating to your body then rest. As an infant, we ate, slept and pooped on repeat until we reached a certain level of maturity. There is a reason for this routine. Refill, Restore, Release. In that order.
It is difficult for anyone, let alone an athlete, to function maximally if one of these pillars are operating on a sub par level.
When stacked next to Diet and Nutrition, sleep if often undervalued. Instead of weighing each item individually I think we should consider the magnitude of paying all three equal attention. Your body uses the time that you are sleeping to repair itself so make time to let your body do its job.
In the vein of self-care, find creative ways to get more hours of sleep in. Whether it is saying no to going out with your friends on the weekend or putting your phone on do not disturb when you begin your sleep routine, it is worth the giving it a try.
Let's take a few lines to discuss how a sleep routine could positively influence the quality of your sleep. Developing a schedule that you can consistently repeat is the first step. You will want to answer the following questions:
What time do I usually get to bed?
How much time do I spend in bed before I fall asleep?
What is the temperature?
How dark is the room?
What distractions are present?
The next step is creating the actual schedule. You would want to include times for dinner, showering, getting in bed and eliminating distractions. Set a plan then put it in to practice for a few nights. Some observations to keep in mind are the time it takes for you to run through your routine and how calm you feel throughout the process. If you have scheduled yourself inappropriately developing a sleep routine was in vain. A proper sleep routine will allow you the time to feel "ready" for bed.
The more consistent your sleep routine becomes the greater chance you have of falling asleep quickly and staying asleep throughout the night. Improving your sleep quality is an investment you will see a return on pretty quickly. Without fail, you will be happier and healthier when you become free from sleep debt.
#7 Read, Write or Whatever you like
Reading is fundamental.
I wish I read more in my younger years. High school was such a bore to me. I didn’t enjoy going to school because I didn’t fit in. Attending class became a chore, and I just didn’t want to engage. So I didn’t. Then Senior year came. I had to face the result of my decisions. The most significant representation of it was expressed on my transcript. Saturated mostly with C’s this was the passport to my future.
My transcript would be the foundation of every first conversation I had with a recruiting coach, and that was terrifying. Luckily for me, my performance spoke louder than my lack of interest in high school studies.
When I got to college and was able to select the content that I studied I started to enjoy reading. Before long it was something I began to do in my past time. Now, when I fail to set aside quiet time for reading I feel disconnected.
The process of reading may not sound intriguing but consider it giving yourself some time to work on you. Pick up a non-fiction title that challenges you to examine where you are in life, or opt for a biography of one of your favorite influencers and study their journey to the top or maybe you would prefer to read something lighter that makes you laugh. Whatever it is that you think you might like just give it a few pages, five-ten minutes.
There was a time in our history when people who looked like me didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. We were stripped of human rights and forced into servanthood, indefinitely. Having access to an education is a privilege. Investing in the betterment of myself, the forward progress of a generation and celebrating the gift of free education is something I am committed to. If that means picking up a book at the local library or committing to reading a blog that challenges me I’m down for the cause.
Maybe you are reading this post and you can’t get behind the thought of reading more. Pick up your pencil or pen instead. Writing and journaling are also free monetarily. The practice of putting new information in via books and articles as well as getting your thoughts out on paper or electronic medium is freeing. Freeing because you’ve taken a step towards influencing your brain chemistry and caring for your body.
#8 Radio Silence
More like social silence.
Disclaimer: I will not allow blurb to become a rant shaming social medium platforms.
I feel like I should say that again with a little more emphasis.
Natasha, do not make this section about how social medium is the opposite of self-care. Ok there.
As many of you know by now, social media is not my thing. I have written candidly about my struggles as they relate to comparison, covetousness and emotional instability. While social media is not entirely to blame I recognize the power it possesses. Occasionally, stepping back from a thing reveals it’s real purpose in your life. The process of fasting from social media has allowed me to see the disproportionate value I placed on other people’s opinions, experiences and untruths.
If you are anything like me and find yourself giving way to much time, energy and emotion to the things that come across your news feed consider giving it up. Instead replace it with something that is life-giving, like reading as I suggested in the previous section. Or writing. Or whatever else will allow you to be kinder to yourself. You are deserving of compassion too.
Bringing It All Home
I know this article did not scream sport but I hope it did speak to you.
As athletes, you are only as good as your last competition. Unfortunately, careers and seasons often fall short of the glory we expect them too. I think there is more value in assigning attention to the person behind the performance.
Time is not on our side, and we only have one life to live. Make sure you are living it with purpose. With the magnifying glass pointing back at yourself too. There is a level of selfishness that is appropriate. You can feel confident that no one can rightfully call you selfish for adhering to the suggestions provided you in this article.
If they do, that’s too bad.
Rest assured that the best way for you to be an elite athlete, a best friend, a terrific teammate is the put forth maximum effort towards the healthiest you.
Start here, with self-care.