Here at Elite Netball, we’re passionate about developing every aspect of our young athletes and ensuring their mental health is in good shape. We strongly believe your mental health shouldn’t sit on the sidelines, it shouldn’t be allowed to go offside or be double marked. It’s something we talk about openly as a coaching group and we encourage all of our athletes to do the same.

Before we get into this blog, we want to let you know that our inbox/phone lines are always open if anyone needs to reach out for a chat. We’d also like to say, we’re in no way mental health experts, the below blog is written from our own experiences of mental health, for more information on the professional help available, head to the bottom of this blog.

Why mental health awareness is important

Mental health seems to be an on-trend phrase at the moment and frankly, we’re glad it is. For too long there has been a stigma around admitting you suffer from poor mental health and a lack of understanding or awareness from those around only worsens the issue. You spend too long wondering if anyone else feels this way, you feel lonely, isolated, and vulnerable to the world. With increased awareness around mental health comes more support for those who need it the most and more awareness means that help can come quicker.

Poor mental health can manifest itself in different ways and below are two common questions we get asked by young athletes and parents:

Can mental health affect physical health?

Absolutely, and equally poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Elite Netball truly believes that you are what you eat and if we fuel our body correctly for the exercise and daily life demands placed on us we can help keep our mind and body in tip-top condition. If your mood and energy levels are low, you’re less likely to feel up for exercising and simple daily tasks can feel like a chore which in turn means you’re less likely to do them. It then becomes a vicious cycle and not doing the things you enjoy means your oxytocin and serotonin hormones – hormones that stimulate feelings of happiness are suppressed prolonging periods of low mood. Admitting your mental health could benefit from an MOT will improve your long terms physical health.

Mental health and your periods

In short, yes, studies have shown that women with poor mental health are likely to experience shorter or irregular menstrual cycles. When you’re feeling anxious and stressed, your body starts to respond by gearing you up to run away or stay and fight – more commonly known as the flight or fight response. In basic forms, this releases more of the stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline. The increased release of these response hormones means your body (the amazing thing that it is) suppresses the release of hormones that aren’t essential in your quest to flee or fight, such as hormones linked to your immune system and your menstrual cycle. Thus, it goes without saying that this has a further impact on your mental health as your hormones are then completely out of whack. And it might not take a medical professional to help you realise that your menstrual cycle can also affect how you feel with the top four symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) being sadness, anxiety and tension, moodiness, and irritability or anger. And if your cycle is out of sync, the symptoms of PMS can be heightened.

If you’re keen to get to know your menstrual cycle and how you can keep on top of your mental health, we’re big fans of Period Power by Maisie Hill. As always if you’re concerned about changes to your menstrual cycle speak to your GP as soon as possible.

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What mental health means to me?

It might seem a strange question to ask but it’s worth sitting down for ten minutes and thinking about this. What makes you happy, what makes you sad, how do you react in certain situations and could you change this to benefit your long-term mental health?

For some it’s a state of balance, feeling on top of workloads, taking care of yourself, or simply doing one thing you love every day. Figuring out what mental health means to you will help you put simple actions in place to help you stay on top of it.

5 tips for staying on top of your mental health this year:

Mental health and social media

Try having a social media detox from time to time. Log off Instagram once a week and see how it makes you feel. Only check Facebook once a day and unfollow any accounts or celebrities who aren’t positively contributing to your mental health. Don’t let the social media world cloud your vision and don’t let someone else’s day or opinion cloud your mood.

Exercise

Our holy grail. When we feel dark clouds looming, we throw on some trainers and head outside for a run or complete a HITT session. It does wonders for our mood and moving every part of the body helps release endorphins which relieve feelings of stress.

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Eat well

As we’ve already mentioned in this blog, you are what you eat. Try to avoid gluten, refined sugar and caffeine when you’re not feeling on form. Fresh vegetables, red berries, nuts and seeds as well as fish should be the go-to for a bit of a boost when we need it the most.

Sleep

If you don’t snooze you lose. Sleep is so important to maintain top physical condition for any athlete but it’s also so important to help balance our mental health. Aiming for 7 – 9 hours of sleep is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy and balanced physical and mental state. Try to be horizontal by 10 pm and resist the urge to scroll through social media just before bed

Talk, talk and talk some more

The most important of the five points. Reach out to those around you, tell them how you’re feeling and ask if they’ll be a shoulder to lean on when you need it the most. The likelihood is, the more you talk the better you’ll feel, knowing you have someone close to you who understands how you’re feeling will reduce feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.

Where to get mental health help

Speak to your GP to explain how you’re feeling and ask for further information on the resources available to you.

Mental health charity Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Their Infoline offers callers confidential help – 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm)

Talking therapy has been scientifically proven to improve mental health and if, like us, you’re a visual, goal-driven individual CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) could be the one for you. This is something your GP might mention, and they will be able to advise on local practitioners who offer this type of talking therapy.

Go online to see what help is offered by your local authority or check in with your school well-being officer to see what assistance they have in place.

Finally remember to take a deep breath, nothing lasts forever, not even the bad times. You are loved, you are strong and you will get through this.