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By Catriona Bisset, and Simone Brick.

Relinquishing Control: A Guide For Athletes In The Wake Of COVID-19

Catriona Bissett

Athletes love the cliché “control the controllables”. It offers solid ground in uncertain times like the present pandemic with a clear sentiment: shrink your focus to the things within your sphere of influence. But in our experience, trying to control small things in an attempt to manage the anxiety stemming from a lack of control in the rest of your life can be disastrous. Just because you can control something, doesn’t mean you always should.

As athletes — people who obsessively plan our lives around training and competition — how can we manage in this uncertain landscape, this limbo world where everything is on indefinite hold? Athletes are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues than the general public, so we need to be especially mindful of the added stress this period will bring. Over the next month, we’ll share the thought patterns and techniques we are using to deal with and adapt to our new reality, which are all based around the theme of relinquishing control. We’ll look at everything: competition, travel, social media, re-writing long-term plans, even ways to understand the danger signs that you or someone close to you is developing an unhealthy relationship to food or exercise.

FIVE KEY ACTIONS

The five key actions we want to explore relating to redirecting or relinquishing control are:

  1. Accept. We’re in this for a while, let’s not waste time and mental energy on speculation and denial. 
  2. Nurture. Athletes are always pushing our bodies to the limit, controlling minute aspects of our lives, but right now the most important thing is your health and immunity (spoiler: that means lots of food and sleep).
  3. Focus. Reframing and developing routine in order to maintain motivation. 
  4. Experiment. There’s no better time to make a change or try something new.
  5. Invest. Putting in time and money to develop parts of yourself you’ve been putting off. Delegate control to a support team of professionals and create a strong management system for when life kicks in again. 

Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as ‘struggling’, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and many of the services above have simple tips for staying well as well as getting help. Try one, and if that doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged from trying another. It’s important to find the support that works for you, and it can take time and multiple attempts.

Now, it’s all well and good being told where to turn, but navigating the services and accessing them properly can be difficult. In response to the pandemic, the Australian government has implemented a package to boost mental health service funding and made sure we’re able to access telehealth services bulk-billed. This means that you can see a psychologist or psychiatrist via phone or video consultation and have no out-of-pocket costs.

Here’s the process we suggest to gain access to a telehealth psychologist as smoothly as possible if you’re brand new to the system:

  • Make a shortlist of psychologists. Head to the website Find A Psychologist and do a search based on your areas of concern, including your location and the distance you’d be willing to travel when travel is possible again (for continuity). Once you’ve clicked search you’ll be able to ‘refine results’. Under the Medicare tab, select Medicare Psychologist and Telehealth (you can also refine by anything else you wish to, such as gender, in the process). This will bring up a list of psychologists that you could see under Medicare that offer telehealth. Look through and write down the names of 3 that you think might work for you. It also doesn’t hurt to ring them and see how long it’d take to get an appointment (waitlists can be long) and make sure that their telehealth appointments are bulk-billed.  
  • Visit your GP. Book an appointment with your GP for a mental health care plan, either in person or find a GP that also offers telehealth. You will then be able to discuss your needs with your GP, receive a care plan, and obtain a referral to one of the psychologists on your list. Your GP may have alternate suggestions to explore as well, which you should remain open to. Going in with some prior research and knowledge will help empower you in the process, and increase the likelihood of you reaching a psychologist that you gel with sooner.  
  • Meet your psychologist. Once you have the appropriate referral you’ll be able to book in with the psychologist you’ve been referred to and start the all-important and worthwhile process of caring for your mental health needs.  
  • Evaluate your relationship. After your first couple of appointments, remember that if you find this psychologist does not suit your needs or you do not mix well, then it’s perfectly okay to contact your GP and ask for a different referral (this shouldn’t need a full appointment at most clinics, just a phone call). You don’t need to stick with someone who isn’t working for you, but don’t go without the help you deserve because of one bad experience. 

Never hesitate to use any of these services early if you’re at all in doubt. Worst case scenario: it wasn’t necessarily needed but provides a level of safety, as well as referrals to a more suitable service. Best case scenario: it saves a life. Having called helplines and seen mental health professionals many times before, we can’t stress this enough: if in doubt, make the call.

We hope this provides you with some food for thought and places to go to start the journey of navigating life with all the restrictions and changes COVID-19 has placed on us. We’re not medical professionals but we’ve been in consultation with them for a decade, and have real-life experience in putting their advice to use.

Stay home, stay safe, and next time you see or hear “control the controllables”, remember that that’s just one way to navigate now — not the only way, and not always the healthy way. In a world where many of us are prone to trying to control every little thing in our lives as we try to keep up with changes around us, realising and sitting with how little we do in fact have control over, relinquishing the attempt to manipulate and learning to go with the flow, could be the best thing to happen to us in terms of personal progress. Just try it and see what you learn.

Until next time,

Trina and Sim

Trina:
https://catrionabisset.com/
ihttps://www.instagram.com/catrionabisset/
Sim:
https://www.stillwerise.com.au/
https://www.instagram.com/theflyingbrick_/

Catriona Bisset and Simone Brick are both elite athletes that live and breathe competitive running — of different distances and on entirely different terrains. Catriona is the Australian 800m Champion and record holder and Simone is the 2018/2019 Australian Mountain Running Champion.

We have both been significantly affected by COVID-19. Catriona has had her Olympic debut postponed and the chance to defend her national title cancelled, while Simone's attempt at a third national title is unconfirmed and her debut in the Mountain Running World Cup season in Europe has been postponed.

Equally importantly, we have experience with mental ill-health and want to use our knowledge to have an open conversation about COVID-19 and sport. For years, we’ve walked the line between healthy and unhealthy relationships with food and exercise in the pursuit of controlling our bodies, performances, and lives. In the moment, when you’re the one in the fire, feeling out of control, taking it out on yourself can be all too easy to do. The ability to take a step back, survey the situation, and make decisions based not on fleeting feelings but on long-standing future values — that is the goal.

Before we dive into these topics: what can we do right this second? If you need support now, you aren’t the only one — and there are so many resources out there:

  • Need to chat to someone immediately? Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.  
  • Need to talk to someone specifically about COVID-19? Call the Beyond Blue 24/7 support phone service on 1300 224 636. This is staffed by mental health professionals. Online chat via their website is also available. 
  • For the most comprehensive list of the various support channels and places to turn around the country, head to this directory at Life In Mind. 
  • For information on government services and initiatives, the dedicated website is Head to Health. 

Revvies are very proud to have both Simone and Catriona using our products in both training and on race day.

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