You would have to be super-human to suggest that the last year of lockdowns has not affected your mental health. Humans are social creatures, and to be forced into house-arrest for so long without any sign of an ending is far from normal. Some of us are naturally better equipped to deal with these long periods of isolation, and some are struggling – more than they will ever want to admit.
When the first national lockdown was announced it halted all levels of sport throughout the UK. For me, this meant an abrupt end to my rugby season. All of the highs, the lows, the struggles, hours of training in the mud and rain, all the weight lifted in the gym, running sessions, strategy swotting – all suddenly meant nothing. To say I took it hard is an understatement. It is easy to see your life crumble around you and resign yourself to this new reality. To give up.
But if there is one thing that playing elite level sport for the last 7 or so years has taught me – it is to not give up easily. It is only recently that I’ve managed to re-discover the determination and mental resilience instilled within me. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to learn from some wonderful mentors and role-models throughout my life, and with a little perspective have realised that the lessons they have taught are applicable outside of sport too.
So, if you think you are struggling to get to grips with this new reality then give this article a quick read. It may help, it may not. But doing something is the aim of the game here – to not give up.
Adjust your goals
Throughout any sporting season, things will not go your way all of the time. This holds true with any sport – hockey, basketball, football, even competitive tiddlywinks (Yes, this is a real thing). Results won’t always swing in your favour – and that is completely fine. Most athletes will enter the season full of optimism for the fixture list ahead and will set lofty goals for themselves. If you’re not in it to win it, what’s the point of playing?
But when you start losing so many fixtures that you can no longer achieve these goals, what do you do? Do you give up? Go home? Pack it in for the year?
No. You step-back and assess the situation you find yourself in. Goals are relative. Relegation candidates (like Arsenal) in the Premier League would be thrilled to finish in mid-table, but for bigger teams like Chelsea… maybe not so much.
So, when we find ourselves in the midst of yet another lockdown – do we still strive for the same goals as before? If possible, then yes. But if the high-flying job you were interviewing for has been cruelly taken away, or holiday to Bali you were saving for has been struck by a travel-ban – then it is a good idea to find goals that are more achievable in the short-term. I’m not saying to give up on your long-term goals. Quite the opposite.
We all want to win the Premier League – but given the current circumstances, maybe just treading water and avoiding relegation IS enough for now. *Cough Arsenal Cough*
Write down your plan for the day
This is something that I would do the night before a, particularly hectic training day usually. Not only does it allow for more efficient use of your time when it is already at a premium, but the process is calming – and I find it leads to a better quality of sleep. Writing down the things you need to get done gets you ahead for the next day before it has even started. I know other people who prefer to write lists in the morning, this is all down to personal preference and I recommend trying different things out to find what works for you.
It is probably THE most important technique I have used throughout lockdown. It has led to a tangible improvement in my quality of life. It doesn’t have to be pretty; it doesn’t even have to be massive things or even legible to anybody but you. Whether you write it on a bit of scrap paper or typed it into your notes on your phone – it does not matter.
Try combining this with the last tip too – set realistic short-term goals for your current situation. It will help you get to where you want to be in the long-term. My daily lockdown to-do list looks a little something like this:
- Get up 9AM
- Shower + Breakfast by 10AM
- Make Bed and do any dishes
- Go for a walk
- Make lunch
- Work 1 – 5
- Take bins out
- Make dinner
- Read a little before bed
- Turn off phone by 11pm
This is real advice for real people. This is a realistic list for the situation I currently find myself in. Make sure that your goals are measurable too – it’s very easy to tell if I have turned my phone off by 11 PM. I find it helpful to include deadlines which provide a little bit of structure to my days during a time when this is hard to come by. This will not work if you write in things like ´get up at 5am and go for a 10-mile run’ that you ultimately know you will not do. Obviously, if you do get up at 5 am and go for a run then it should be included… but if you don’t, maybe leave it out.
I promise you – there is no better feeling than ticking off every single one of these points on your list. You have set a plan out for the day, held yourself accountable for your actions, and finished everything you set-out to do. I daresay you will do more than is on your list too. Once this process turns into a habit then you should maybe start thinking about changing that 9AM alarm to an 8AM one.
Keep an eye on your viewing habits…
And no, I don’t mean like that!
Being surrounded by our creature comforts at an arms-length away is often too much temptation for most to resist. We’ve been conditioned over the years that television, video-games, social-media, online-streaming are all rewards that we deserve after a hard day. In a sense they are, but when the paradigm has shifted to a life centred around these luxuries – it is all too easy to spend far too much time consuming them.
It is incredible how our viewing habits have shifted during the lockdown. I’ve included some information from Ofcom regarding how our consumption of various media sources has changed during the second lockdown.
Now – this is not necessarily an awful thing. But the time ‘lost’ watching Netflix or Disney is time we could be using for things that make more of a difference in our life. Whenever I found myself struggling to juggle academic and sporting commitments, cutting down the amount of time I spent lazing around helped me get back on top of things. Do we really need to be watching six and a half hours of television a day?
By setting yourself limits on your media consumption will cause a domino effect. By setting limits to how late you watch TV, avoiding having a video playing in the background while working from home, or even reducing the number of streaming services used (or rotating monthly) will make a huge difference to every-day life. You will achieve a better quality of sleep, be more productive while working, and spend less money.
Actually, this leads me into my next tip quite nicely.
Control the controllable(s)
In sport – there are things you can control. How much you lift in the gym, how often you stretch, how long you’ll spend watching game footage, your skills and techniques for the various aspects of your chosen sport.
And then, there are the things that you cannot control. The weather, the actions of your teammates, the actions of the opposing team, the wind – things like this. Quite often you will find your attitude towards the controllable will directly impact your ability to cope with the things that you cannot.
By investing more time into worrying about the aspects of the game that you can control you will find that you become more flexible in response to the various stressors of sport. This draws parallels with our current lockdown life.
It is easy to feel utterly helpless in the current situation. There is nothing that any of us can do to change the current status quo. When you no longer hold complete autonomy over your life it is easy to let discontent grow. My advice?
Go for a walk when it is wet. Go kick goals when it is windy. Take back whatever control you can.
Just because you are confined within your house is not an excuse to let this have a knock-on effect in other areas of your life. Get up and make your bed. Do your dishes after every meal. Eat healthily. Exercise. Look after yourself. Call your friends and check up on them. Work hard. Learn a new skill. Rediscover your old passion for competitive tiddly winks (we’ve come full circle here).
Control what you are still able to control and be the best version of yourself that you are currently able to be. Just because you have no say in the current lockdown does not mean that you have no say in other aspects of your life. As soon as you find that little spark of defiance to do whatever you can you put a big middle finger up to Covid19.
This will not last forever. We’re nearly there.