How athletes protect themselves from stress


  • According to researchers, mindfulness allows high-level athletes to better manage their stress.
  • This in-the-moment meditative practice has a significant effect on anxiety, depression and pain.

Elite athletes are known for their stamina and determination, and the Roland Garros matches right now are a good demonstration of that!

But even though they have exceptional abilities, athletes can feel the effects of stress.

Recently, this topic has also made headlines in sports news: at the 2022 Olympics, seven-time Olympic champion Simone Biles withdrew from the gymnastics final due to stress; AFL footballer Adam Treloar has struggled with anxiety for many years, saying he nearly quit the game in 2018; and just recently, tennis superstar Nick Kyrgios revealed his battle with depression.

Present time

Fortunately, there are ways to keep stress levels in check, and researchers have been looking at what can help athletes cope better with unexpected changes and uncertainty.

A new study from the University of South Australia explored the realities of elite sport and stress and found that mindfulness can significantly reduce and protect athletes from stress.

Mindfulness is when one develops one’s awareness of breath, body position, and sounds, and observes one’s thoughts instead of merging with them, in order to stay in the present moment.

Lower stress levels

Working with a group of high performance soccer athletes, the researchers investigated the relationships between mindfulness, executive functioning, and psychological distress, and found that athletes who demonstrated greater mindfulness exhibited lower stress levels.

This relationship was observed at two points in time: immediately after the initial COVID-19-related sport shutdown in South Australia and approximately six months later, at the end of the athletes’ competitive season.

As the study was conducted during COVID-19, it provided unique insight into the mental skills and resources that determine how athletes respond to significant stress.

These findings could help develop targeted health interventions to combat stress.

Stronger mental resilience

“At the moment we are only beginning to understand how stress can manifest and affect athletes and more research is needed, but as this study has identified that mindfulness can protect athletes from stress, that Cognitive training interventions can equip athletes with greater mindfulness and stronger mental resilience, this is an avenue definitely worth exploring,” explains the lead researcher and PhD candidate at the University of South Australia, Ed O’Connor.

“Let go”

Novak Djokovic, considered one of the best tennis players of all time, is an excellent representative of mindfulness.

As he explains in his book “Serve to Win” released in 2013, he ends each of his days with a fifteen-minute meditation session and it is the practice of mindfulness that has allowed him to go beyond doubts, fears, anger and letting go.

“I used to freeze when I made a mistake. Now I still have those flashes of doubt but I know how to manage them: I recognize my negative thoughts and let them go, to focus on the present moment. This full presence m “Helps to manage the pain and my emotions. It allows me to focus on what is really important” he says in an interview.

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How athletes protect themselves from stress

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