Houston, TX

Baylor College of Medicine's expert suggests prioritizing mental health for athletes

Jessica Yang

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HOUSTON, TX — Being a professional athlete may result in loneliness since athletes must focus on accomplishing their goals in sports. Therefore, their focus on mental health is often neglected.

Karen Winston, clinical assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor highlights the importance of prioritizing mental health for professional athletes and how parents can help them at an early age.

“Competitive athletes are mostly focused on their body and developing their skills during their season. This continues even during their downtime with additional attention paid to their sleeping, hydrating and nutrition. At the same time, it’s also very important to have some balance,” Winston said.

Aside from honing their skills, athletes may also be pressured to provide game tickets, airline tickets, or other materialistic items for their family and friends.

This can create tension, anxiety, and mental strain in their relationships. Therefore, it's better for athletes to just focus on the people who support them and provide a positive influence in their lives.

With that being said, professional athletes may experience burnout. Even though this is common, they should be mindful of how hard they push themselves. Taking a break may help prevent burnout. Some of the symptoms of burnout are:

• Apathy
• Exhaustion
• Loss of appetite
• Anxiety
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Fatigue or sleeps too much
• Not performing their best

If some of these symptoms persist, they should seek professional help. Winston said many athletes seek counsel when they have pressures related to family, dating/marriage, finances, or social media.

Athletes have publicly discussed the immense emotional strain of having to be responsive to the media, upcoming public events, or public appearances. Getting counsel with a mental health professional ahead of public appearances can be helpful.

“I suggest speaking with a mental health professional who can guide them through techniques to help them, but also to help them understand what is triggering the feelings and thoughts that keep them from performing their best,” Winston said.

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