As a psychology major, my mind continues to move towards thoughts and emotions, even as I watch the Olympic Games. As we cheer and groan at wins and losses, we are probably all wondering how the Olympic Athletes cope with the pressure.
Research on this matter of athlete's mental health are widespread but difficult to decipher. Some sources say that mental illness is no more prevalent in extreme athletes than it is for all the non-athletes out there. But perhaps if we focus in on one specific aspect of Olympic Games, we can find out more about how the sport affects athletes mentally.
Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey published work in the British Journal of Psychiatry regarding this very topic. Some of the findings pointed to increased instances of burnout in the population of Olympic Athletes. They write that, "The prevalence of overtraining in elite athletes has been reported at between 20 and 60 percent, with distance runners most severely affected." So what are the symptoms of burnout? The signs of burnout according to Psychology Today are chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression and more. Training too hard can cause some or many of these symptoms.
Another psychological stressor has to do with the aftermath of winning or losing. A majority of Olympic athletes go home after the games having lost. This means that many people train intensely for four years (or an entire lifetime) merely to go home disappointed. Believe it or not, the depression experienced by these athletes is similar to that experienced by winning athletes. After the excitement dies down there is a period of boredom in which Olympians cannot help but question, "what was it all for?"
Being an athlete can take up so much time and thought that it becomes one's sole identity. Athletes inherently have a personality which calls for excellence and complete devotion to a personal goal. This can be alienating as only other competitive athletes can fully understand this trait. And while it would seem that Olympic athletes could find solace in each other, many of the competitions are individualist challenges which pit people against one another.
On the other hand, many athletes develop skills in meditation and may in fact have more peace of mind than non-athletes.
In conclusion, the rewards may seem great but being an Olympic athlete is a stressful endeavor.