8 Ways Athletes Can Improve Their Mental Health

It’s important to be at the top of your game both physically and mentally in order to accomplish your goals and achieve success as an athlete. Mental strength is what can help a runner make it across the finish line or help a golfer remain calm under pressure. It’s all about determination, resilience, and awareness, something that will help you last longer on those days you’re not feeling your best. 

Of course, there have also been many mental challenges dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit all of us in one way or another, including athletes who had to endure stay-at-home orders with no idea when they’d compete again. As the American Psychology Association reported, the virus disrupted routines and training for months while undermining a major pillar of their identity and bringing a potential threat to their livelihoods. 

While there are many things to consider for optimal mental health, these are some of the top options for athletes.


Many athletes have practiced meditation for years to ensure they’re at the top of their game, from Michael Jordan to Russell Wilson. It’s been shown scientifically to relieve stress, enhance mental clarity, and improve self-control. You don’t have to sit cross-legged and chant “om,” you can simply take the time to sit in silence while breathing deeply, being aware of any thoughts but not reacting to them. It helps to build focus, awareness, and attention span.

Cold Water Therapy

While there has only been limited scientific research to date, there are countless anecdotal accounts of cold water therapy helping to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. We do know that it can increase the level of mood-elevating hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine which provide that “rush” that’s felt when leaping into icy water. It also helps reduce inflammatory markers that can contribute to anxiety and depression while building stress resilience at the same time. 

Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone

Top performers continuously try to push themselves, venturing out of their comfort zone, which lays a good foundation for mental strength. Seeing yourself accomplishing something you doubted you could do is one of the best things for building confidence.

Use Visualization Techniques

Use imagery, such as envisioning yourself having accomplished whatever your goal might be, seeing yourself doing well and winning or beating a record time, for example. Once this idea is in your head, it’s easier for the body to follow through, even when you’re under pressure.

Let It Go and Write a Different Story

If you’ve suffered a setback in any way, whether it’s an injury or anxiety, take the opportunity to write a new story. Don’t dwell on the past, instead create a mental plan that can potentially transform your future instead of letting what happened set you back even farther.

Work on Flexibility

You not only need to have flexible muscles, you need to have a flexible mental game in order to handle unexpected challenges that come with training and competitions, from having to follow a new routine to weather and coping with other people. When you can roll with the punches, looking at the same situation from multiple perspectives, you’re more likely to come out ahead in the long run.

Keep a List of Your Accomplishments

Self-confidence is incredibly important for athletes. You can boost it by writing down all of your accomplishments, whether using the “notes” function in your smartphone or an index card. List your top performances, awards, those moments when you exceeded expectations, compliments teammates and/or coaches have given you, and anything else you can come up with. Whenever you’re feeling down, read it.

Manage Your Thoughts Effectively

Engage in positive self-talk as often as possible, such as using affirmations or cue words that can help calm nerves or pump you up. If negative thoughts creep into your mind, acknowledge them then let them go.