11 tips for athletes to limit the psychological impact of COVID-19

Posted on March 30, 2020 by

The measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 have undoubtedly had a significant impact on your sport and life. Here are 11 things you can do to limit the psychological impact and maximise the opportunity in front of you.


1. Choose your news

It’s important to get your information from reliable sources.  Set yourself reasonable boundaries and try not to spend too much time checking stories on social media as this can increase anxiety and worry.

Some reliable resources you should utilise for COVID-19 updates include the Australian Government Department of Health, the NSW Government, and Australian Institute of Sport.


2. Be OK with being stressed 

The reality is that this is a stressful time and everyone is feeling the stress to some degree, whether it’s about getting sick, losing a job, protecting loved ones, buying groceries or the uncertainty in a rapidly changing world.

It’s okay to feel stressed, worried or anxious. These feelings will pass, as they always do.

It’s what you do next and what action you take that matters most; preparing for training at home, committing to studying, remaining socially connected with friends online (etc.) – this will all help you deal with and overcome the feelings of stress.


3. Take action on what matters 

When you constantly focus on things outside your control (e.g. the postponement of the Games, the virus, or the economy), it can have a negative effect on your mental state.  This can affect your motivation to train, work, and study, as well as negatively affecting your energy levels.  While you should still acknowledge these external events, it’s important to refocus yourself on the things that are within your control which you can take action on.

Ask yourself; ‘What’s next?’, ‘What can I action in my own life?’ For example:

  • What do I need to eat healthy this week?
  • Have I thought about connecting with NSWIS nutrition?
  • Is my equipment ready for my home training program?
  • Can I adjust or increase my study load?


4. Set some short-term goals 

Realistic short-term goals are important during this time of uncertainty. Think about what you’d like to achieve over the next week and how you’re going to achieve that.  You can have multiple goals across a wide range of areas including social or family life, physical development, and personal development (e.g. learning a new skill, studying).  You might even write a list of things you’ve been putting off and start to tick them off each day.


5. Stay healthy & use routines 

Look after yourself.  Continue to exercise, make healthy dietary choices, ensure you have a good sleep routine and maintain structure throughout your day.  Athletes and support staff are used to, and generally thrive on, structure and routine so it is important you keep these same foundations to help support your own wellbeing and performance.  Schedule in specific times to exercise, intentionally connect with family and friends and do things you enjoy.  See the linked AIS document for some ideas on maintaining structure, routine and motivation.


6. Stay connected to your support network 

Social connection is important for our mental health, so think of other ways you can connect with friends and family whilst adhering to medical advice to distance yourself.


7. Support others

Keep on the lookout for people showing signs of serious distress and actively listen to other people’s needs and concerns. If appropriate, share useful information or link people with social support, information and professional help if needed.


8. Quieten your mind

Practise mindfulness meditation: Headspace and Smiling Mind have great free APPS available to start a mindfulness meditation program. As you increase your ability to be mindful, you increase your ability to let go of stress and anxiety.

Practice 456 mindful breathing: It’s a super simple way to destress and shift your focus.  Do this for four rounds; breathe in for five counts and breathe out for six counts while slowly lowering your shoulders (as if a heavy jacket was falling off your shoulders).


9. Get your education sorted

Ensure that your study plans, timetable and options have been thought through and are the best fit for you at this present time.  If you need to discuss this, please contact your NSWIS AW&E advisor.


10. Practice being grateful

You will experience a range of emotions at this time and that is completely understandable.  You can use gratitude to keep things in perspective. Paying attention to the things that you have can be a useful strategy at any time, but particularly now. Gratitude practices can be as simple as; listing the three best moments of your day, what you are most proud of today, or what did you learn today.


11. Seek additional help if you need it

A level of anxiety over COVID-19 is completely normal.  However, if your anxiety or stress continues to acutely impact on everyday life, and is not responding to the strategies suggested above, then a trained mental health professional may be able to help.

With this in mind, you may wish to contact your NSWIS team psychologist or AW&E advisor.


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