Running Through Depression
There’s this thought among athletes that they need to be prime specimens. By nature of their sport, runners and athletes of all disciplines somehow feel like they need to be virtually flawless – both to excel in their training and to be confident in their abilities.
Unfortunately, this is never the case. And, whether it’s because of a predisposition toward the condition or some other circumstance, athletes commonly deal with depression. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) estimates that approximately one in every five athletes may be facing depression in some form. But, why? And how can athletes effectively handle their depression?
Problems Facing Athletes
As mentioned, depression can show up in athletes for numerous reasons. Of course, there’s always a chance that may suffer from depression completely dependent from your training. This could be because of a genetic predisposition, experiences in your past or other situations in your life.
Unfortunately, your devotion to your sport could also increase your risks of facing depression at some point in your career. For example, two-thirds of marathon runners will deal with some sort of injury every year. Depending on the severity of that injury, major changes to the athlete’s training or lifestyle could be called for. As a result, the ACSM reports that over half of athletes who see a doctor about a sports injury also show symptoms of depression.
And then there’s the stress associated with the competition itself. One study that examined 50 elite-level swimmers that a whopping 68 percent of the participants had dealt with depression at some point in their lives. The same study reported that the severity of depression symptoms can increase by double during competition.
But these numbers have nothing to do with the athletes’ actual performances, only their fear of failure. Both the frequency and severity of depression can increase significantly if an athlete chokes or just doesn’t meet their our performance goals.
Staying Focused and Balanced
Clearly, then, depression is a very real problem in the athletic community. What are some practical steps that can help runners and other athletes to deal with their depression?
It’s interesting to remember the fact that exercise has been shown time and again to be an effective treatment for anxiety. So, how can an athlete’s training actually contribute to the problem? As mentioned, a major problem as to do with fear of failure or unrealized expectations. In order to fight athletic depression, then, athletes will often have to reevaluate their goals and training routine.
But depression in athletes is often very closely connected with Overtraining Syndrome and, taken together, this combination can make it extremely difficult for athletes to maintain their workout routine. But simply, athletes can find themselves in a situation where they just don’t have motivation to exercise. Which, considering the well-documented antidepressive benefits, creates a pretty vicious cycle.
If you’ve found yourself in this sort of rut, how can you break the pattern? First, clearly write down your goals. This might mean changing them based on your current situation. Make sure that they are realistic and measureable. It’s very important that you present yourself with a challenge that you can conquer and definitely know when you’ve reach that goal. Vague or unreachable goals can leave you feeling frustrated and could ultimately worsen the situation.
But what if you just don’t care about your training anymore? What if your motivation has been sapped? A proper goal can help with that but you may also need to take some time to think about the benefits of regular exercise. Remember that it can help. This might also be a great opportunity for you incorporate some crosstraining into your routine. Try a new training style or work on a sport that you’ve always enjoyed. Again, depression and Overtraining Syndrome over work in conjunction so changing up your training could help with both problems.
Looking into new sports and training styles could also help manage your depression in another way: by providing your with a sense of support and accountability.
For runners, many classes – like spinning or Pilates – make especially useful cross-training tools. Which means that, along with that break in your regular routine, you’ll be provided with an extra motivational boost to get up and get through that workout.
Of course, that isn’t always enough. Athletes often attempt to portray themselves in a positive light and, according to many experts, depression rates in athletes is extremely hard to study because athletes try to cover up their condition so that they can appear confident and ready for their next competition. If you’re struggling with depression, recognize that that is not a weakness. Regardless of the cause, depression is a potentially serious medical condition and their is no shame in seeking help.
Discussion what you’re experiencing with someone that you trust and speak with your doctor about useful treatment options. As an athlete, you routinely work to avoid and remove any obstacle to your progress, depression should be viewed as just another challenge that can be overcome.