College Student-Athlete Shares Tips for Supporting Mental Health

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Vedika Anand is a former women's tennis student-athlete at Wagner and chair of the Northeast Conference's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She currently is a member of the Mental Health Advisory Group and works for the Professional Tennis Players Association.

As part of the NCAA's amplification of student-athlete voices during Mental Health Awareness Month, Anand shares some tips she used during her experience as a student-athlete for supporting her own mental health and well-being.

When I started my journey as an international student from India in 2016, I always assumed that the most daunting parts of college would be adapting to American culture, learning to live independently and being away from my home and my family.

I started playing tennis at the age of 6 with a dream of becoming the best tennis player I could. I spent hours, days, months and years training to achieve that goal.

But by the time I started competing as a Division I athlete at Wagner, I realized that my most daunting task was actually being able to sustain my mental fitness along with my physical fitness.

As a psychology major and with an avid interest in mental health and well-being for athletes, I developed strategies through my experience that eventually led me to become stronger mentally on and off the court.

Here's what helped me.

Visualization

The idea of rehearsing a skill, performance or routine in your mind can be helpful. Student-athletes can picture the movements and engage in the kinesthetic part of imagery.

Sachin Tendulkar, a legendary cricketer from India, talked about how he used visualization as a means of pregame preparation. Tendulkar would construct every possible outcome that might occur on the field in his mind so that when he was physically on the field, nothing would come as a surprise. 

When I used it, it boosted my confidence, decreased stress and enhanced motivation.

If you haven't tried it before, give it a chance! Before your match or game, visualize what is to come. Realistically you cannot predict everything, but you can go through the movements, the plays, the scenarios and the techniques in your head.  

Positive self-talk

"I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was," said Muhammad Ali, who was outwardly very confident and boastful.

The act of speaking to yourself positively provides good thoughts and can shift your mind to a better place. Distractions and other failures would clog my mind. To support myself internally, I always tried to avoid a negative style of thinking.

We always hear the phrase "believe in yourself," but no one talks about how that actually works. Try speaking positively to yourself in front of the mirror. It helped bring me back to the present moment and set the tone for a positive attitude. 

Relaxation

Call it relaxation or meditation. Do whichever to calm your mind. Different techniques would decrease stress, improve my focus and curb anxiety.

LeBron James has been on the record stating he would do breathing exercises during timeouts or halftime to help calm his nerves — and he's one of the best basketball players of all time!

I have used relaxation techniques to bring me back to the present and help me adjust after a tough match where my emotions and nerves were high.

It can feel silly but try to take five to 10 minutes of your day, ideally at the start, to close your eyes, sit straight and breathe in and out deeply.

What helps me is focusing on my breathing pattern. Try to keep your mind as free and disengaged as possible. I used a similar technique during changeovers of my matches. It was easy to think about how I lost previous points or how I'm going to win future points.

Keeping myself mentally in the moment by focusing on my breath, helped me focus on what was happening right there in front of me.

Preparation 

It is easy to get overwhelmed with the vast priorities and crazy schedule that we have to juggle as student-athletes.

The key is to be prepared ahead of time. Create a schedule. This does not mean just jotting down your classes and training times. Write down timings for everything within your control including meals, screen time, time with family/friends, training recovery/rehab, homework and extracurriculars.

You may not need to schedule out every single day, but you will be grateful to have a routine on the days where you feel more overwhelmed or are busier than usual.  

Balance

I left this one for last because I believe it is the most important for all student-athletes.

Balance in life is the key to sustainability.

Balance means you give yourself a day of rest when your mind and body need it. Balance means recognizing and seeking help even when you do not want to. Balance means that if you spend 80% of your time trying to chase your athletic and academic goals, you spend 20% of your time winding down or doing something you really love outside of your priorities and commitments.

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