Eating Disorders: Resource directory

Over lockdown a number of people reached out who needed support for disordered eating but didn’t fit the NHS guidelines for getting support. They couldn’t afford private psychology and nutrition help and were struggling.

This lack of NHS support unless you have a specific BMI is scandalous. Hope Virgo (@Hopevirgo on twitter) has a campaign called Dump the Scales where she hopes to get eating disorders proper funding and support. All of us working in psychology feel the same. It is a horrible disease for the suffer and heart-breaking for those that care about them. And it isn’t taken seriously enough.

I tried to pull together resources suggested by some brilliant clinical psychologists I know that might be helpful to them until they were able to access the medical support required.

Support groups and advice

Despite the lack of resources within the NHS there are a number of great websites and support groups for those suffering with an eating disorder. Beat is the best known. It is a UK charity who give information, help and support for people affected by eating disorders. They manage online support groups, help you find peer support and have message boards and a helpline. More specifically for athletes the Train Brave website is brilliant for information, advice and has lots of case studies so you can see how other athletes have overcome their issues. There is also a great website (New Maudsley Approach) for those trying to support someone with an eating disorder.

Beat

Adult helpline: 0808 801 0677 (9am – 8pm Monday to Friday, 4pm – 8pm weekends and all bank holidays)
Studentline: 0808 801 0811 (as above)
Adult email: help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk
Student email: studentline@beateatingdisorders.org.uk
Website: www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Anorexia & Bulimia Care: https://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/

Train Brave: https://trainbrave.org/

The New Maudsley Approach: The New Maudsley Approach – A resource for professionals and carers of people with eating disorders

Resources

Other resources I recommend to those reaching out include:

Information sheets and workbooks from the Australian government

A course on intuitive eating: Intuitive Psychology Academy (£77 including workbook)

The Food Psych podcast from Christy Harrison.

The book: Rehabilitate, Rewire, Recover by Tabitha Farrar.

Another book: Brave Girl Eating which is written by a science journalist about her daughter’s struggle with anorexia – it offers a brilliant mix of personal and scientific, of emotion and rationalism.

If you have used anything else and found it helped please let me know and I will add it on.

Lockdown legacy…

We tend to make our memories around milestones. Birthdays, school terms, sporting events or competitions and holidays are those pillars around which our memories attach. Except this last year. Birthdays were celebrated without physical parties, school was often at home, sporting competitions have been mainly cancelled or held behind closed doors and holidays are still missing in action. So the year full of restrictions seems to have flown by because we have fewer memories of it. In my head it only seems about three months long, punctuated by the few trips I took, the occasional visits to my mum’s garden and the box sets we devoured.

But – something I am seeing with so many athletes at the moment is that they have been able to take a year that they could have interpreted with disappointment and reflect on what they have learnt and how they have developed. So many have been able to see the sunny side of what has been a tricky time. We have been drawing these into a ‘lockdown legacy’. Like an annual report that a company would do; we can each look back over our year and pick out what we have learnt, who we have valued, identify our achievements and make better goals for the future. Below are some questions to answer to create your lockdown legacy.

Over the last year…

  • My favourite moment:
  • I am proudest of:
  • The people who supported me:
  • The people I supported:
  • The biggest belly laugh I had:
  • Something I learnt about myself:
  • I became grateful for:
  • Something I will do differently now:
  • My biggest achievement:

Create your own boost box

Whether we are going through a global pandemic (hello 2020-21), have a tough period in our lives with lots of stressors or we have clinical depression or anxiety something which can be helpful is a self-care box.

I call it a boost box as I like to think these are not just things we do to soothe ourselves but actually to give us a little push forward back to feeling more like ourselves. We put it together when we are in a good place, knowing it is sitting there waiting for us when we are struggling. I had a few ideas with my psychologist hat on of what might be useful but put a call out on twitter and got loads more brilliant ideas. So here are 24 different things which you could put into a boost box:

  1. Playlist of favourite tracks – ones you can lose yourself in
  2. A card reminding you of the rainbow technique
  3. A card reminding you to do colourful breathing
  4. A favourite childhood toy or teddy bear that makes you feel safe
  5. Small jigsaw – another brilliant way to lose yourself
  6. Colouring book and pencils
  7. A stress ball or putty you can play with
  8. Your favourite book
  9. Your favourite photo
  10. A copy of your favourite piece of art
  11. A quote or mantra which really resonates
  12. A list of the things in life you really value
  13. Really cosy socks
  14. A recipe you love cooking or baking
  15. A candle with a calming scent to light
  16. A gratitude sheet so you can add on new things you are grateful for
  17. Tissues – cause sometimes crying helps
  18. Messages from people you love
  19. Your confidence jar
  20. Bubble mixture – imagine each worry inside the bubble and watch it blow away
  21. Chocolate – just because (and I’m sure there are some good chemicals in chocolate that help us feel good)
  22. Some pieces of paper you can write down a negative belief to scrunch up and throw away.
  23. A note to yourself that you have written reminding yourself it always passes and you will feel better again.
  24. A list of 4 or 5 easy things to do which help. Some of these could be:
    • Going outside for a walk
    • Dancing in the kitchen
    • Calling a friend
    • An easy goal to achieve
    • Walking your own or a borrowed dog
    • Watching a show you find funny.
    • Exercise you find fun
    • Getting a hug.

Why exercise is vital during lockdown

Running postIf you dare to look at your local Facebook group, or the rants on Next Door forums you would find there is a new ‘enemy of the people’. Not a politician, or someone failing to deliver PPE, but ‘joggers’. Who knew someone exercising could be so vilified? The walkers dislike anyone running near them, the runners get annoyed that people are ambling all over the place, the cyclists breeze on by. Frustratingly my usual run route has been completely closed off to runners and cyclists so walkers can use it. We are all in this together but somehow still find our tribe and our enemies. And can get very grumpy about it in the process (and as a runner get grumpier still when I’m labelled a jogger!)

We’ve got at least another 3 weeks of lockdown and increasingly confusing interpretations of what is and isn’t allowed with some wondering why anyone is exercising at all, suggesting it is downright dangerous. A comment on twitter from cyclist Julie Elliott really highlighted this…

Juliet Elliott tweet

So why is walking, running and cycling still allowed?

It is allowed because although it creates logistical challenges, it will maintain the nation’s physical health, improve mental wellbeing and also makes economic sense. In short it will keep people healthier for longer and that is just what the NHS needs right now.

We know what in many parts of the world over two thirds of adults are not active enough. This has led to insufficient physical activity being one of the leading risk factors of global mortality. World Health Organisation studies have found that those who are insufficiently active increase their risk of death by up to 30% and put massive pressures and additional costs onto health care systems. Even if we have a chronic health condition we can still find strong value in exercise, in fact, especially when we have a chronic health condition, there is a huge amount of benefit to exercising.

Physically, exercise improves muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness, improves bone and functional health, reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and lowers the likelihood of falls and fractures.

Mentally, it reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression, boosts mood and quality of life and cuts down loneliness.

It is also thought exercise plays a large part in enhancing our cognitive functions (these are the different aspects of our mental functioning such as our thought processing, memory, attention, concentration and creativity), meaning we become better at controlling our behaviour and regulating our emotions. Pretty helpful when we are dealing with things we’ve never dealt with before.

Together this shows that exercise has tremendous powers which, when taken regularly and with the right intensity, can make a huge difference to our mental, cognitive and physical health. So, what counts as exercise.

It isn’t just physical activity. Exercise is purposeful, with the intention of improving fitness and with at least a slight elevation in your heart rate. Going for a very slow walk while eating an ice-cream or smoking a cigarette (which seems rather common on my local route) might be great for your feeling of wellbeing but isn’t going to do much to improve your fitness. Walking quite briskly, but still being able to chat is the minimum of what we need for both physical and mental benefit. I love this piece from New Scientist explaining it. When we are looking to improve cognitive function the studies suggest we need to be more active – into the vigorous activity level; running, cycling, circuit training, football or rowing types of sports.

And the message is clearly getting through. Sport England commissioned some research which ran at the beginning of April (3rd-6th) and found 63% of adults feel it is more important to be exercising now than they did before Coronavirus. Really interestingly it suggests that the mental health benefits described above aren’t just in research papers, they are being felt, with 67% saying the exercise they are doing is helping them with their mental health during the outbreak. Here is the full release.

So who is right? The walkers, the runners or those staying home?

My view is it is all of them. As long as there is about 30 minutes of purposeful exercise each day where your heart rate rises quite a bit and you get at least a little out of breath then you are doing a good thing for yourself and society. Carry on.

Interview with Counselling Psychologist Dr Natalie Raiher

When we know athletes are about to have a tricky time; a training camp they need to go on with team mates they dislike, a really hard period of training focusing on a skill they are currently weak in, the biggest competition of their year that is fuelled with pressure, we often discuss how they can suck it up. We all know we can cope with tough stuff for a few days or weeks. It helps to put the period in context and see light at the end of the tunnel.

But we are now two weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown. And while every athlete knows they can cope with three weeks of something (as the original period was given from the Prime Minister) we mostly know it will be longer. But none of us know how much longer. It is that uncertainty that is so tricky to deal with. The novelty of isolation has worn off and we’ve probably tried lots of things to keep us busy, entertained and fit but now is the time to ensure we have some coping strategies and routines in place to keep us mentally fit.

I chatted to Chartered Counselling Psychologist, Dr Natalie Raiher, from The Practice at 322 in West Hampstead (where I sometimes also see athletes in clinic). She is still seeing her regular clients for video sessions but is also volunteering using her skills to support NHS staff. We talked about how she is helping all these people deal with this period. She offered some great advice that will be valuable for athletes and performers both now and when things return to normality.

What are the main worries you are finding people have about Coronavirus?

“The worries tend to vary depending on what part of their lives has been impacted the most. People whose businesses have had a sudden downturn, such as those in travel or hospitality or those who are in debt, their main worry is money and livelihood and what to do. For some people it is the loneliness if they live alone or are estranged from loved ones, some people it is the chaos and the lack of access to their usual coping resources like sport or hanging out with their favourite people. We are used to having support structures in place but they just don’t exist in the same way right now.”

It is changing at all?

“The profile of worry does seem to be changing as the virus is getting more virulent. In the beginning people were worried about lockdown and food and trying to organise things. Now people are more worried about their own health and more emphatically worried about others; their health and how they are coping.”

How are people coping?

PyramidSome aren’t. We are seeing a rise in domestic and child abuse statistics – people are finding it very hard to function in small places under stress. Substance abuse is going up too with people reaching for unhealthy coping mechanisms. When I work with people we use a coping mechanism pyramid [I’ve added a picture of one here – it was created by Dr Alice Boyes – http://www.aliceboyes.com] – the behaviours at the top are ones you use sparingly and those are the bottom are those you can use liberally. All coping mechanisms serve a purpose but there can be a fine line between healthier ones and unhealthier ones. You don’t want to take away the coping mechanism they have but we do want more alternatives for people.”

“We must remember most of the worries and anxieties people are experiencing right now are completely normal. From a mental health perspective it is entirely appropriate not to feel great right now. Lots of people have lost jobs and structures so it is fine not to be feeling ok. Some people have responded to this by fleeing from the reality of this using denial and this is a solid way of coping but it can come under many guises. So some people have developed things like over-productivity or OCD. They are denying what is happening, which is perfectly understandable – it is bloody scary. It is perfectly normal to be grieving our normal lives and feel the loss around it. It is ok to feel the fear.”

Athletes are often used to high levels of routine and structure in their lives. How can they cope without this?

“Even if you are someone who likes the freedom not to be too structured, during times like this everybody needs some structure. The degree is dependent on personality. Some people need a lot of structure to feel safe – others need less. But everybody needs some type of routine as it regulates our limbic system and things like our appetite and body clock. Routine can be quite soothing and a gentle structure is beneficial.”

“For athletes used to a high level of structure in their training to go to none is very distressing so they need to find gentle structure in their day. It can be unique to each athlete but a few elements which create a routine will help them.”

Many of the coping techniques that athletes rely upon; such as exercise or focusing on a goal are either not possible now or only possible a different way. Are there any good coping mechanisms you can suggest athletes could try instead? 

  1. Focus on function. Again this will be personalised but you can think about the function of what each thing in your normal routine does for you. What is the function of yoga class, or work or taking the train? When you drill down into this then you can write your own prescription to replicate that function within the constraints of your life right now. Whatever you get out of that activity that is a good way to translate it. Replicating the same function within our new constraints.
  2. Stay goal driven. Keep the idea of being goal driven but focus on the soft skills which will help your performance down the line, such as learning to tolerate pressure or stress better. If you can use this time to practice tolerating higher levels of anxiety and uncertainty or using a different approach to unhelpful thoughts then that you will have developed some really positive cognitive skills that will help you in the future.

Are there any specific cognitive skills that athletes could work on? 

“Meditation is really good. We know from neuro-imaging that meditation turns off the fear part of our brain. When there is over-activation in our fear brain we can turn the volume down when we meditate. Meditation also turns up the impact on the self-soothing centres of our brain so cortisol [our stress chemical] release goes down and we are better able to reflect and to be present. Apps like Calm and Headspace can help these.”

If we are used to being very active, always in and out of home and often at work or the gym what should we look out for to spot if our mental health might be becoming fragile?

“It is completely to be expected that everyone’s mental health will be a bit wobbly right now. Angry, moody, feeling helplessness is completely normal when everything has changed in the way it has.  But if these feelings persist and don’t vary throughout day or they start to get in the way of you functioning then you need to keep an eye on yourself and ask for help. If you find yourself starting to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as gambling, drugs or withdrawing from others these are also signs need to seek help.”

We realise that being anxious or feeling some grief during this period is a very natural and rational response – but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to feel better. Have you found any ‘pick me up’ techniques which are helping people when they are having a down moment? 

“Yes. We follow a two pronged approach.

Coping cardsFirstly, we have to feel our feelings. It is like digesting food. If we don’t do it then it gets stuck and we get panic attacks and will have angry outbursts or become obsessive about things. So if you are feeling down acknowledge that feeling and only then focus on comforting yourself. Some people will make a ‘coping card’ with a message to themselves or a quote that they love. They can keep it with them – or have a photo of it on their phone and look at it when they need comfort or strength.

Grounding techniques

The second prong (if it is anxiety you are feeling) is to use a grounding technique which can use your five senses and pull your body down.

 

 

 

 

Another second prong (if it is low mood you are feeling) is to focus on ACE. This stands for Accomplishment, Connectedness and Enjoyment.

  • Accomplishment – When our mood drops over a period of time we withdraw so we need to increase our sense of accomplishment. These can be any small tasks; baking a cake, having a shower, something on our to do list.
  • Connectedness – when we withdraw the only way to come out of it is to get back to connecting with other people. We have to force ourselves to connect with another person – even if that is a text or a phone call to someone else that day.
  • Enjoyment – This is the biggy in this is many people are depriving themselves of enjoyment and pleasure. People are getting on with the task at hand but not factoring in any pleasure and that really effects our mood so got to look for some enjoyment and pleasure in the day – this is your prescription for better mental health.”

 

Advice from Dr Tim Rogers on how athletes can cope during the Coronavirus changes

I remember interviewing Dame Sarah Storey and asking her if she’d ever used Imagery. She said she uses it all the time; but whilst on the bike, visualising the events going on around her. Never lying on a dusty floor being talked at. She couldn’t see the value in that. And she is not alone. There are lots of mental skills we teach in sport psychology which work wonderfully. But they often require athletes to sit still, or sometimes even lie down, eyes closed, to learn them. Those techniques are not popular. When we introduce them eyes will roll and stomachs will sink. They want to be outside, in the gym, on equipment – using physical energy.

So, take these athletes, who want to be outside, to be active. Cancel all their races. Wipe out their goals. And, if they are not key workers, ask them to spend three, four or five weeks at home with only a short amount of time to exercise each day. Of course, they understand why and will do what they can to help. But it doesn’t make it easy.

So I asked Tim Rogers, one of the UK’s leading sports psychiatrists for ideas to help them cope.

TIm Rogers photo

What do you see as the biggest mental health challenges for athletes who have to isolate?

Athletes don’t escape the same issues as non-athletes.  In that sense, although social distancing prevents infections, social isolation can significantly increase the risk of other health problems, both physical and mental.  Blanket corona virus coverage on social media and through 24-hour news cycles mean we miss nothing, including hearing about everyone else’s worries.  Worry and anxiety become unhealthy when “what if” thoughts multiply and fill our thinking space with scary things all day.  This is tiring and hard to sustain.

Specifically, in sport, athletes and coaches across the board are struggling with the sudden unexpected loss of their goals, their events (major and minor) and sometimes even their livelihoods.  This was unthinkable only a few months ago.

Elite sports people can find these losses harder to cope with – emotionally – for a few reasons.  Sometimes they have had to invest such a large amount of themselves in their sport: who they are; what they value about life; how they spend their time; who they connect with in their social groups; that sudden changes like this can feel catastrophic.  Sometimes, they have set themselves extremely high expectations for what they want to achieve for their season.  Although there is nothing they could have done to control the onset of a pandemic, they nevertheless find themselves feeling guilty about not training, having a negative conversation with themselves or feeling that they have in some way let themselves down.

The combination of these things can place emotional wellbeing at risk, at a time when it’s important to look after yourself in all respects (both mental and physical).

How do you advise athletes to cope with a complete change of expectations for their season?

Take a moment to pause, step back and notice how you’re feeling during such an unprecedented time.  It’s OK not to be OK, whether or not it has anything to do with corona directly.  If at all you do need support: reach out in the normal way; don’t tell yourself you need to push on through, single handed or alone.

Putting yourself out there to compete in sport has to come with an awareness that things might not go as expected.  Sometimes this is the small stuff.  Right now, it’s something unprecedented.  Striving to achieve amazing things also means being flexible to adapt your goals when you have to.  Once you’ve done the best you can, remind yourself that this is enough.  It’s ok to readjust expectations.

Self-isolation need not mean social isolation.  Being connected to others in a supportive community does more than just help us feel better, it buffers the biological effects of stress hormones/pressure. It’s so easy to forget to reach out and connect but it’s still possible to experience the same sense of community and the same mental health benefit digitally.  One of the benefits of our era of tech is how readily we can now do this from our phones, tablets and computers.  A great example is the digital community in which I work: Big White Wall

Don’t just reach out to those closest to you, reach out to your wider group and be together with them online.  Giving support can be just as beneficial as receiving it.  When you do that, take a moment to notice how many non-sports areas of life you actually value really highly: family; relationships; friends; community; hobbies; spirituality; leisure; physical health; politics; caring for the environment; something else altogether.  Falling back onto the things that are important for each of us helps us through difficult moments and helps us manage unhelpful thoughts and feelings.

How do you advise athletes to cope with the increased levels of frustration and boredom?

A little worry or frustration can be useful if it nudges us to plan our way through difficult moments. Don’t revert to reading the news too much or ‘lurking’ on social media.  Set aside 10 minutes each day to get up to date with the latest developments, then that is enough until tomorrow.  If you are online for other reasons, think about what you post.  Share stories of coping, share care and support and share the things that have helped you.

Give yourself permission to focus on something else: a to-do list for today.  Any more worry about what might or might not happen in the future (or what cannot now be achieved) is not helpful for you or for others.

Routines are helpful.  I read a great thread about life on a submarine recently.  Submariners cope by routine: from making sure they rise early, wash and dress; all the way through the other aspects of the day.

There are lots of ways to help you get back into the moment right now, whether free mindfulness resources online, or anything else that pulls your focus into the present.  This enables us to cope and to problem solve.  Is there something you can take the opportunity to get done?

Your full training plan might not be possible for now but movement is still medicine.  Set yourself a goal to find the best ways of staying active and fit for your own situation.  For most people (except in situations of exercise dependence or disordered eating) any activity – however little – helps your mental health. Try to find some physical activity that is fun and enjoyable for each day.

Tim’s biography:

Tim is a medical doctor and consultant sports psychiatrist.  For many years, Tim has worked across the spectrum of wellbeing and performance with both individuals and teams in elite football, in the Olympic and Paralympic Systems, elite rugby, cricket, tennis, horse racing and many other areas.  He is one of a very small number of experts to have undertaken dual postgraduate training in applied sport and exercise psychology.  He understands the culture of professional sport and the unique pressures that come with this. Tim is also clinical director at the Big White Wall, an anonymous online mental health service with projects across sport, both in the UK and internationally.

Managing emotion through tough times

Emotion wheelJust a short post as I am trying to fit as much writing in before the schools and nurseries close and I have to work whilst entertaining an energetic and adventurous 3 year old. If any magazine articles get published in the next few months with random Peppa Pig phrases in them you’ll know why!

But as everything is up in the air I have really been thinking about how athletes cope. They are often used to uncertainty and ‘controlling the controllables’ but in this COVID-19 situation what is controllable? If you are someone who likes certainty, and things to grab hold of and dates to work towards and plans and goals then the next few months might be really tough.

Discipline is needed in sport but, when you get really used to following a disciplined approach, sharing your emotions can be hard. We may believe that to be taken seriously we just need to ‘suck it up’. but we can only do that for so long before it harms our wellbeing and then it can then be very difficult to tell people how we feel, what worries us, when we are scared or when we are angry.

Something I have recently started using with the younger athletes I work with is an emotion wheel and I think it could benefit all of us, whatever our age. There are thousands of emotions but I would guess that from the top of our head most of us could only name 10-20. An emotion wheel names 130 of them. If we are soon to be confined to our flats and houses for weeks on end then having good quality, open communication will become vital. Without a way to escape and get some space we may get resentful or hostile. Being able to chat up front about this, looking through the wheel each day and having a chat about which is the word you are currently feeling can help deal with some of those issues and open the door to better communication. Better communication and seeing things from each others’ perspectives will make a much less stressful living environment.

The emotion wheel I usually direct people towards has been created by Geoffrey Roberts and is downloadable here: https://imgur.com/a/CkxQC

Would love to hear if anyone tries it and how you get on.

Racing interrupted…

A virus we hadn’t even heard of when we entered many of this season’s races and competitions may now cancel many of them. We might feel upset and stressed because everything we have been working towards feels uncertain and also feel guilty for feeling that way as we know people are already poorly and it is important that we don’t contribute in any way to the spread of this disease.

I was both upset and guilty when I heard a rumour Paris Marathon might be cancelled. My motivation went out the window. My race the next day was lacklustre and my attitude sucked. Once it was officially postponed it was easier. I had stability and confirmation and I could plan around it. With a little reflection I could see there are far more important things in the world and that I had already learnt so much on my marathon training journey to date that nothing was wasted.

Part of the strategy when we get a setback is to allow space to sulk. We suggest about 48 hours is fine to throw all your toys out of the pram, to stomp your feet and be a grump. But then it is time for action. The five steps I follow with athletes in this position are:

  1. Sulk
  2. Research
  3. Adapt plan
  4. Find the positives
  5. Get back on track.

I think this can work really well for a specific setback – such as just one race being cancelled for say logistical or weather reasons. But as we are looking at so many competitions having to cancel or postpone maybe a wider, more strategic mental approach is required. I asked on Twitter how athletes are approaching these challenges and how they are maintaining motivation. The awesome answers that came back seem to fit into five main categories.

Reframing

One of the strongest responses, and something we often practice in sport psychology is to reframe a situation. I loved the response from Gill Bland (super speedy runner and writes for Fast Running) that all challenges can be seen as training opportunities. We can use tough times to see that and do things differently. We can also use this period to get some perspective. It is just a competition we are missing and we are incredibly lucky we are fit and healthy enough to be able to compete in the first place.

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Unplanned, but beneficial improvement space

Many amateur athletes are squeezing their sport into already full lives; family to care for, money to earn, friends to socialise with. We schedule everything to within an inch. An unexpected and unplanned interruption can be a blessing in disguise as we get some space to reflect and then focus on areas which usually get forgotten. More yoga, strength and conditioning, specific skill weaknesses can all become part of our maintenance programme.IMG_9443

Helps you become more flexible

To do well in sport we need to be able to focus on just those things we can control, and minimise our thoughts around those we can’t. We should be doing this for any competition which matters to us. Get a sheet of paper, divide it vertically into three columns. On the left hand side write all the things you can control about the situation you are in, on the right, all the things you can’t, and the middle is the things you might be able to influence. Then focus 90% of your mental energy and preparation on the left hand column and just roll with whatever happens on the other side of the paper. These interruptions offer a great practice opportunity.

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Helps you uncover whether you have been extrinsically or intrinsically motivated.

I loved the response from Alice Hector (ex Pro triathlete and generally a super supporter of anyone doing long distance stuff) which was that cancellations offer us a chance to reflect on why we are competing. Do we do our sport because we love it (intrinsic motivation) or because we have goals to reach (extrinsic motivation). When the goals disappear we can clearly see if we are in our sport because of the feeling of doing it, the joy it brings us, the way it makes us feel. If we are not maybe it isn’t the right sport for us, maybe there is something out there which would give us genuine joy even when there is nothing external in it for us? So perhaps these interruptions can help you either see what you do love about your sport (and that we just really benefit from the process) – or help you to hunt out something you might love instead.

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And if we are intrinsically motivated, as Kate Carter (fabulous runner and running journalist) reflects, then you get a chance to consider exactly what it is you love about your sport so you feel more motivated to do more of it.

Kate tweet

Practice without pressure

Finally, while sport is brilliant – it is fabulous for physical, mental and cognitive health and wellbeing – and we should treasure what it gives us – it can also create pressure. Once we start to take it seriously, instead of relieving some of the strains and stresses of life, it can add to them. Races or competitions being cancelled can give us an opportunity to get back to the fun side, the bits that helped us fall in love with it in the first place.

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7 weeks to go…stars in the dark

A good week for training. Started badly though. Went for a run and after 25 minutes felt dizzy and blugh. Did another 5 minutes but no better so turned round and headed back. Next day’s intervals not much better. But a swim on the Thursday was pretty magic. My coach has this theory that swimming during marathon training makes you a better runner. I dislike swimming so I wish she was wrong but unfortunately she really does know what she is talking about and legs and head felt great afterwards. I also had a sports massage from Joseph on Friday who is fab (apart from the regular reminders to stretch!) so went into my long run on Saturday feeling good. Which was handy cause running in a storm is hard work. Managed 16 miles ambling round Richmond Park. Sunday was just 10k home from meeting friends for coffee in Richmond. My friends looked at me like crazy setting off in the rain to run but I promised I was ok because I love running in the rain. Something so liberating about it. It is a pretty good strength to have too seeing as it can rain quite a lot on London.

It was a good run to use to reflect on my strengths. Because although in training (and many sports psych sessions) we tend to focus on our weaknesses, on competition or race day we really need to know our strengths, so we can use them to our advantage.

It is one of my favourite sessions to do with athletes. Most are so humble that they look at me in horror when I initially ask about their strengths but once we get into it and break them down into areas they find they have loads, and start to feel much prouder about how good they have become.

We start by doing a strengths audit. This is a list of all those elements which make us feel confident we can achieve our goals. Proactively identifying strengths is helpful as we are prone to a number of cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias where we are more likely to notice things which support what we already believe or negativity bias where we focus more on negative information than positive. Countering these by promoting positive elements, reminders and memories can help us overcome these biases to stop downplaying everything good and seeing it through this negative lens. The strengths audit is also great for a confidence boost. Even if we don’t believe we have a natural talent for our sport, we can still see the elements which help us perform well in it. And it helps us focus on our own skills and mastery, not on those of our competitors.

This one is easy to do as a list but to make it resonate a bit more I raided our Sporting Brain Box to do my strengths audit as ‘Stars in the Dark’. This gives you what you need to put your strengths up somewhere you can’t miss them. I’ve just stuck mine up right above my desk.

Stars in the Dark

Stars in the Dark gives you 10 silver stars. We are looking for at least one strength from each element:

  • Fitness
  • Strategy
  • Skills
  • Tactics
  • Mindset
  • Support

If you struggle then you can get out your training diary to see which sessions you always nail, or look through your phone to see who gives you the best support with your sport. If you really struggle then think about other areas of your life which may highlight transferable strengths. And if you still struggle (and many athletes, especially if they are in a bad period within their training will find this hard) then talk to other people about where they see your strengths coming from. It could be a coach, partner, parents, friends or club mates. The benefit of this is knowing your strengths are strong enough to be recognised by others should mean they can be pretty confidence boosting for you to remember in the build up to and during competition.

So with my Stars in the Dark staring down at me I’m off into Brighton Half Marathon this weekend.