The current situation with the COVID-19 virus presents a lot of uncertainty. Unfortunately, anxiety feeds off our uncertainties. Here are some tips to reduce low levels of anxiety and enhancing general well-being from Aodhagán Conlon, a former professional jumps jockey who is currently training to become a chartered sports psychologist, as well as studying for a PhD at the University of Bath.
Be informed, but don’t read the comments
Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest causes of anxiety and for most of us we are facing an experience like none before.
Be an interested but informed observer. Follow government guidelines, they are being advised by the experts. Social media is a great source of information, but we all know there’s plenty of rubbish on there too, know when to put it down.
Find out what information you can from your relevant industry/authority about their plans for future competitions etc. This will give you a foundation about how your own training may need to be adjusted, but also remind you that you are not alone.
This period of uncertainty could be putting people’s livelihoods at risk. Keep in contact with friends, family, clients and fellow professionals. You do not have to offer solutions, just being there to listen can have a massive impact. One phone call could make all the difference. This is also an opportunity to reinforce current relationships or even forge new ones.
Luckily enough, for those working with horses, this is a necessity. Having a routine provides us with a psychological structure to our day. Don’t be seduced by the snooze button, beat the alarm and you will have your first victory of the day. If getting out of the bed is important, equally so is getting back into it. Keeping to your regular sleeping routines will maintain the quality of your sleep which in turn will help with immune function; needless to say, a strong immune system is vital during this period. If you do have spare time in the afternoons, appreciate it. Horses take up a lot of hours so having a chance to read that book or go to that yoga class is a luxury that you may not have again for a while.
Eat well and move
These are the basics but ‘what is easy to do, is easy not to do’.
It can be easy to treat yourself more often (especially if working from home), but we are all aware of the need for a healthy diet. It is also worth noting that foods high in processed sugar can increase anxiety. Keep protein levels up (include one portion of protein in each meal) and eating plenty of greens to help your immune system (I’m not a nutritionist so here’s where social media can be really useful, e.g., @daveynutrition).
Move. You are not under house arrest. Once you are acting responsibly, you can go outside, you can drive somewhere (the beach or the mountains) for a walk. Don’t be afraid to go without music and reflect on your day, or plan for the next one. Many artists, writers, scientists had their biggest breakthroughs while walking (Einstein spent more hours of the day walking and in coffee shops than he did in the lab). Think of it as active mindfulness.
Use experience, improve your skills
We mightn’t have faced a situation quite like this before, but we can draw comparisons. You have faced issues like restricted movement and competition cancellations before. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.
- Remind yourself: What did you do when your horse went lame?
- What did you do during the Beast from the East?
No competitions for 6 weeks? Great that means you can get fitter, you can improve your flatwork, your jumping.
Not travelling with your horses anywhere? Great, that means you can sort out those bills and invoices that you’ve been avoiding.
Ask yourself honestly, what are the areas that you could improve in both personally and professionally? Pick one (start small), begin, and come back better. Remember, you have no idea what your competitors are doing during this time, so don’t give them an edge.
Tidy up. Is there anything nicer than a freshly swept yard?
Not only is it important for standards of hygiene, tidying up can provide psychological relief from anxiety. Your brain is constantly trying to sort between chaos (unknown information) and order (known information). Chaos can provoke anxiety as our subconscious response to something unknown is often to label it as ‘dangerous’.
A chaotic room plays havoc with the subconscious mind. Think of it like this. Things which are dirty, not in order, missing, are all unknown, unresolved mini-scenarios which provoke mini-anxiety responses. When you set your room in order (e.g., everything in its place, clean, unnecessary items removed, necessary items found!), you remove a little bit of chaos and reduce a little bit of anxiety from your life.
Start small, like folding up a few rugs. Your first task should be something that can easily done which provides motivation to continue.
Aodhagán Conlon is former professional jockey who is currently training to become a chartered sports psychologist, as was well as studying for a PhD at the University of Bath.
Follow him on Twitter @aodhaganconlon