Dr Carla Edwards has been supporting Canadian athletes experiencing mental health issues related to COVID-19.
In partnership with sports medicine expert Dr Jane Thornton, she has produced a widely praised resource for athletes dealing with their new reality.
Here, she explains how creativity, flexibility, and adaptability are key to navigating your way through this time of uncertainty.
Anxiety can exist on its own as a symptom without being a disorder, and I think it’s important to understand that it’s normal under the current circumstances for all of us to feel a bit of anxiety.
That anxiety will drive us to be more socially responsible and make good decisions right now, but for those who have underlying anxiety – where even before a pandemic occurs, you’re having difficulty sleeping, focusing or concentrating, and you’re worrying about life and health in general – the addition of something on this scale can make that more disrupted and can interfere with your daily function.
For those of you who feel better by having schedules, regimens and predictability in your lives, when that is removed it can undo all the coping mechanisms. So it’s important right now for you to have support to help you create new schedules, change your perspective on things, and have greater flexibility with regard to how you’re experiencing the world in order to be able to cope.
Many of you have returned home from travel around the globe – and have therefore potentially been exposed to COVID-19 – so have had heightened worries about potential infection. This heightened worry can also replicate or simulate some of the symptoms of COVID-19.
Some of the overlapping symptoms that can be confusing include shortness of breath, a tightening of the chest, and a feeling of overall unwellness. Sometimes muscle tension caused by anxiety can cause generalised, what we call myalgia – or soreness – which is also a symptom of COVID-19. Worry and busy heads can get in the way of sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re going to be quite lethargic and tired the next day, which is another symptom of COVID-19.
So, putting all of these together, both of them can look pretty similar for a few days, but some very simple techniques can help you sort out which one is which. COVID-19 unwellness will be there most of the time and is sometimes worse at night, whereas anxiety can be settled with breathing techniques, relaxation, distraction and doing other things that you would typically do in your day.
The importance of sleep
Sleep disturbance is one of the biggest problems that I’ve seen amongst the athletes since this occurred, not surprisingly. You would think that some of that was due to anxiety and worry, but it’s not really – the biggest contributor I find is the change in schedule. You’re so used to being tightly regimented and having your wake time, training time, food times and sleep times all pretty controlled, but now with everything very autonomous you’re left to figure out your daily schedule on your own.
A lot of the recommendations coming from the various Integrated Support Team (IST) members and people who are meeting about this are really focusing on the importance of a schedule, including sleep in that schedule. Those who are getting better sleep are coping better in the day, they’re feeling rested and stronger and just being able to have a better-balanced perspective on what we’re likely in for over the next few months.
Be creative, stay flexible
We all need to readjust to this, and coaches are still trying to figure out what to do differently right now. Creativity, flexibility and adaptability are three qualities that are really going to be important for all of us to get through this, particularly for those of you who are trying to find a way to maintain your fitness, be active and have a schedule again.
CREATIVITY, FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY ARE THREE QUALITIES THAT ARE REALLY GOING TO BE IMPORTANT FOR ALL OF US TO GET THROUGH THIS.
Dr Carla Edwards
So how are you adapting your environment to that? Some of you will have a more difficult time with this because there are no pools available, for example. On the other hand, mountain bikers are still going to the mountains, while others are ordering hurdles on Amazon and still trying to find a way to do it at home. This is a time for all of us to expand our minds, be creative, research online and talk to friends to get some ideas. There is no end to the possibilities of creativity out there.
Find the right balance on social media
I think early in the days of this pandemic people were overwhelmed with the amount of information that was being sent to them on a regular basis, but now I think it’s time to take a little bit of a break from that and choose what platforms and sources of information are helpful and healthy.
Webinars are happening on a weekly basis, and people are having Zoom coffee break drop-ins where you can just join at any time to talk about whatever you want. Find online workouts to follow and suggestions that are helpful for you, but try to have some time away from your phone or the news cycle for a period of time just to allow yourself to connect with your day and your environment.
This is the new reality, for now, and we need to be able to be with it, be in it and be mindful – and that will actually decrease anxiety overall.