Three self-care priorities for health and athletic performance by Brad Krause

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Most people assume that an athlete who is dedicated to keeping fit and getting balanced nutrition is leading a lifestyle that puts health first. But this is not always the case. 

As an athlete, taking care of your overall health is about more than just training and nutrition. If you aren’t prioritising basic self-care, such as getting enough rest, relaxing, and reducing stress, your mental health can suffer. And this, in turn, can affect your physical performance and physiological health as we cannot separate our mind from our body. You can start small by working these basic self-care priorities into your everyday routine.

Priority 1 - Make time for relaxation

When you lead a busy life, doing things that promote relaxation may not be at the top of your to-do list, but it should be. Many of us wait until we’re stressed to the max to stop and take some time for relaxation. The truth is that making relaxation a priority every day can help fight stress and keep you from getting to the point where you feel frazzled.

To make relaxation a priority, start by finding ways to reduce stress and find a sense of calm when you’re at home. Consider dedicating just a few minutes each day to meditation. Whichever type of meditation you prefer, one of your primary goals is to quiet your mind so you feel more centred. This can be hard to do if your home is cluttered, noisy, or full of other stressors or distractions. To keep these distractions from getting in the way, you may want to create a special spot or room in your home as a dedicated meditation space. This space should be calming, comfortable, and separate from work or other activities.

Along with meditation, find ways to spend your downtime that promote relaxation. Many activities that require you to work with your hands are calming, such as colouring or knitting. If you find it hard to sit still, go for walks to relax. Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can really complement your training regimen, giving your body and mind a chance to slow down.

Priority 2 - Keep stress away

Relaxation helps you manage stress, but it’s also important to be intentional about how your everyday thoughts and activities can either cause stress or reduce it. Some of us tend to overcommit ourselves, leading to a situation where you feel burnt out. If this sounds familiar, you may simply need to say ‘no’ on occasion. There may also be times when you could use a little help. Embrace that, and be willing to let those who care about you help out.

Of course, even when you are proactive about avoiding added stress, there’s no way to get rid of it entirely. When stressful situations pop up in life, use the same tools you do in sports to handle them in a healthy way. Simon Boulter at reminds us to focus on what we can control, breathe, and let go of attachment to the outcome.

Sometimes, we also need a little spiritual self-care to keep stress away. For some people, that means spending time in prayer or meditation. For others, it means refocusing our thoughts so that we’re being kind to ourselves. HuffPost says we need to banish negative thoughts and focus on what’s positive in our lives with gratitude. What you think about is powerful, and being conscientious about what goes on in our minds is an incredible form of self-care for the soul.

Priority 3 - Get some rest

Athletes know that rest is essential for recovery, but getting the rest you need is often easier said than done. To prevent injury and make the most of your workouts, give your muscles a rest by cross-training. Restorative exercises like yoga can be just what you need to work out sore muscles and relax at the same time.

Not only do you need rest from intense training, but you also need plenty of rest at night. Getting enough sleep at night is absolutely essential to being a strong athlete and for good health in general. If you struggle with getting good rest, you might want to look at your routines. Some people can exercise before bedtime and it wears them out enough that they sleep well, while others get too amped up by an evening workout. Since this varies from person to person, look at your own routines, and consider altering your bedtime routine to promote better sleep.

There are only so many hours in a day, and when you stay busy and have big goals, it can be hard to squeeze in anything else. Fortunately, basic self-care really doesn’t require much time. If you aren’t feeling your best, prioritising these self-care strategies daily may just be the missing piece that will put your mental health back in balance.

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