Experts from Aspetar, Qatar’s world-level specialised orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, and the first of its kind in the Middle East, have offered methods for how to deal with the psychological effects of self-isolation.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has caused many changes in the schedule and behaviour of individuals and athletes, especially after self-isolation at home was declared as the best way to limit the spread of the pandemic, according to a statement.
However, self-isolation has different psychological effects on everybody and in particular in athletes; this is mainly due to the changing lifestyle that has made some feeling the pressure of negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger and frustration.
This pandemic has caused a change in people’s daily habits and routines. Also, due to rapid access to media outlets and social media platforms, many are overwhelmed with news and information about the pandemic, in particular when fake news and dubious cures are circulated. This aggravates negative emotions which may lead to sleep disorders and eventually affect mental health.
Aspetar experts suggest that individuals should focus on controlling their routines and concentrate on what is within their control; this will help to cope with and overcome negative emotions, uncertainty and discomfort over time. It is important to consider this situation as a positive challenge; negative feelings are natural responses to change and uncertainty. Athletes are not the only ones who suffer from this situation and feelings.
Scientific research has highlighted what may happen when individuals are isolated alone and/or in small groups.
“Self-isolation at home or quarantine is a completely new and unfamiliar situation for athletes and even the public, and as a result there are no detailed research studies on this subject,” says Dr Marco Cardinale, executive director of Research and Scientific Support at Aspetar.
However, research in other cohorts, such as the military, astronauts and special operations, provide some useful guidance on what we need to focus on to support everyone in the current scenario. One of the key aspects to focus on is the ability to maintain healthy sleep patterns over the course of self-isolation or quarantine.”
Athletes are all advised to stay and train at home. Following the closure of sports clubs and training sites they not be able to train as usual. This challenge should not stop them from maintaining fitness by finding alternative solutions and training routines.
The measures put in place to reduce Covid-19 infections include social and physical distancing; changes in daily routine are inevitable.
Sofiane Suissi, clinical and sports psychologist at Aspetar, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic and the use of home isolation or social distancing and the possible associated negative effects, require us to face and deal with a new situation; this include dealing with psychological changes created by the noise of social networking. We also need to deal with isolation and we are forced to think creatively about how to manage and control changing emotional situations and moods; this is especially true for athletes.”
Aspetar experts advise athletes to continue their training and maintain normal daily routines as far as possible. However, athletes should not only focus on physical readiness, as mental and psychological readiness play a major role. Especially now that many competitions have been cancelled or postponed, including the 2020 Tokyo
One of the points highlighted by Karim Khalladi, clinical and sports psychologist in Aspetar, is that fear of contracting Covid-19 and excessive stress and anxiety associated with the rapidly increasing spread of the disease can have a large influence on the athlete’s psyche.
Aspetar has developed easy to follow messages and guidelines on how to deal with the stress caused by home isolation/quarantine, in particular highlighting the importance of quality sleep.
“Healthy sleep habits can have a positive effect on mood and eating behaviours in athletes. Athletes need to know that maintaining healthy sleep habits and routines can help to maintain and protect the immune system. It also helps athletes to cope better with a prolonged period away from normal training and group routines. Athletes should therefore to make sure that they go to sleep at appropriate times and not too late, and wake up after having at least eight hours of sleep. They should not
sleep until late in the morning.”
Aspetar’s guidelines included many useful tips for dealing with stress.
Useful suggestions to cope with stress:
l Train regularly: You can still train at home and work on various aspects of your fitness. Don’t let the coronavirus stop you! However – do not train when you feel ill.
l Take care of your body: Try to eat healthy well-balanced meals, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and tobacco.
l Keep a routine: Daily life is different with the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the virus. Classes are virtual. Practices, training sessions, and competitions are cancelled. Despite these unusual circumstances, try to maintain your normal routines. Go to bed early and wake up early.
l Stay connected with others: Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships and build a strong support system. Physical distancing is the key to containing this pandemic. But you can use technology such as FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, House party and Snapchat to stay in contact with family and friends (rather than texts or calls).
l Take ‘news’ breaks: Try to avoid watching, reading, or listening to news stories all day. Try to focus on things in your life that are going well and that you can control.
l Stay informed: If you want to be informed about the current situation, make sure to get news from reliable sources such as the Ministry of Public Health.
Don’t trust news from unreliable sources (fake news) and messages about miraculous supplements/cures. You can also visit the Covid-19 Evidence for Athletes Service on the Aspetar website.
l Take time: To lift your spirit you can pray, meditate or help others in need.
l Realise: The whole World is dealing with these challenges, and you are not alone. All athletes are facing the same challenges and are supporting each other using social media.
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