5 Steps for Overcoming Athlete Depression

May 13, 2013 | Jazmin Dorsey

Depression

After a game-winning play, what do you see? Fans chanting in joy and athletes celebrating their victory. But rewind the clock a few seconds and the picture could look vastly different.

In this scenario, the game is going down to the wire and it's "make or break" time for the players. Sports are filled with such high-tension moments. But although they add excitement for the fans, they place a great deal of pressure on the athletes. (Read Thrive Under Pressure by Understanding Your Mindset.)

Heavy pressure on a daily basis is tough on your mental health. Yet it's something all athletes have to deal with. For pro players, it's the fear of disappointing the fans, their families and their teammates. For high school and college athletes, it's the need to be good enough to satisfy their coaches and to get to the next level. (From High School to College to the NFL: Pressure and How to Handle It.)

Becoming overwhelmed by pressure can cause an individual to develop a mental illness such as depression. And like any disease, depression poses a threat to the athletes and the people around them.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in America alone more than 6 million men suffer from depression each year. Depression among women and minorities is even higher, as stated in a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here's the good news. Pressure is easier to deal with if you take simple steps in your daily routine. Here are five ways as easy as cracking a smile.

Laughter and Communication

Sometimes the best medicine for staying happy is just to kick back and spend time with friends and family.

Laughter can lessen depression symptoms and improve mood, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Research from the UMMC shows that a good chuckle can reduce levels of stress hormones.

Another way to safeguard yourself is to build a support system of understanding friends, family and counselors. This will allow you to communicate with others about the stress you are feeling.

It works too. Royals pitcher Zach Greinke, who had a fallout over depression and social anxiety, spoke out and encouraged other players to do the same (Sports Illustrated, CNN).

Breaking a Sweat

There is a reason you feel rejuvenated after a good run, an extra cardio session or a bout of stretching. Exercise gives your body an energy boost that makes you feel good all over. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals such as neurotransmitters and endorphins that ease depression (Mayo Clinic).

Athletes like Shaquille O'Neal, who owns gyms in many locations, exercise as much as they can to maintain their health.

Future Talk

Making plans for the future can help prevent or overcome depression. The goal here is to keep moving forward. Nothing major is necessary. Simple things like getting up early for a morning walk can keep you on the road to happiness and satisfaction.

When NHL player Stéphane Richer suffered from depression, he decided to make his life better by seeing a counselor (Sports Illustrated, CNN).

Shuteye

Getting enough sleep gives you a mental and physical boost. When we sleep, our brains release hormones that trigger functions such as restoring energy and strengthening the immune system (Washington Post). Without sleep, our bodies can fall apart.

Regularly Chowing Down 

Eating healthy has a positive effect on the brain. This doesn't necessarily mean sticking to fruits and veggies and kicking the treats. It means eating regularly, eating balanced meals and eating healthy snacks between meals. (See How To Sustain Healthy Eating Habits.)

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