Saturday, 1 August 2020

Looking after ourselves in these uncertain times

Eduardo has kindly written a blog about COVID and the related effects. He’s a former semi-pro cyclist, a qualified cycling coach and has years of experience with counselling...

I believe that to be a cyclist in the UK you have to be cut from a different type of cloth - a pretty special one I would say. 

We are used to hearing about epic stages in the Tour, Giro or Vuelta. Usually climbing big mountains with rain or sometimes snow. Whilst we don’t have mountains around here, we do have a pretty decent amount of rain, wind and cold weather. It is not unusual to have at least one or two of those epic rides in an average week. If we are unlucky enough to cross paths with an angry driver it can make the ride go straight into the annals of history. Sometimes cycling can feel more like a penitence than an enjoyable sport.

This year cyclists have not only had to fight against the elements, but also COVID19. Government restrictions and lockdown have meant everything is cancelled: social rides, races, sportives and holidays. Most riders’ objectives for this season have been thoroughly wrecked. 

To train, eat properly and rest well– especially through the winter months requires huge sacrifice and discipline. After putting in all this effort to perform well to then have to put all our objectives on hold “until further notice” is very frustrating. Us cyclists work well with goals, they keep us focused and motivated. But what happens when the goals are not there and uncertainty takes over our lives? 

Having our objectives cancelled and not being able to plan ahead can make us feel anxious. If you are a racer or you like to push hard in sportive rides you may be craving the rush of adrenaline that competition/challenge brings to you. Without this target then training hard can feel pointless, you may struggle to keep motivation and focus. If you ease your training you may feel guilty about that and guilt is an anxiety builder. 

Others cyclists face the loss of control and not being able to follow their training schedules by overcompensating with hours and hours on the rollers/turbo to make up from having to reduce the hours on the road. These cyclists may never feel that they have done enough and will spend any free minute doing something to make sure they are not falling behind. I am feeling stressed just thinking and writing about that, I don’t even want to imagine how that must feel...

When we feel anxious it is not the best moment to make important decisions. If we feel anxious for a prolonged period of time usually our threat system is activated and depending on our level of anxiety we can go in to a defensive/survival mode such as flight, fight or freeze. Our decision-making capacity is more likely to be polarized with black or white options prevailing over more balanced ones. 

These are a few examples of how we can feel anxious when we are going through uncertain times, and the impact that anxiety can have on us. Obviously, there are much more circumstances when we can start feeling anxious. 

As you might suspect, we are all different, we all have different personalities and also different circumstances in our lives. I have listed below a few things that have helped me to overcome anxiety in the past. You may have or find some others that work better for you:
-          It is normal to be anxious. In these uncertain times it is totally natural to wonder what the future will bring and where you will fit into this new reality
-          Go back to your baseline. Remember why you started cycling and all the positive things that cycling is giving you
-          Enjoy cycling. Not every ride is a competition. Be competitive when you need to, but don’t forget that it’s supposed to be fun
-          Try to identify what is making you feel anxious. Isolating the issue will help you to tackle it more effectively
-          Make a long-term plan. Thinking ahead and having clear goals will help you with motivation and drive. It may help to visualize where you want to be in one or two years and put a realistic plan in place to achieve it
-          Make your goals realistic. Overly ambitious or goals that are not challenging can make us feel that we are not good enough or that we are stuck in a rut and not improving. Goals need to be regularly reviewed and tuned to reflect your day to day commitments
-          Try not to make important decisions when you are feeling anxious. First, step back and look the situation objectively then identify the source of anxiety, make the appropriate changes and keep a mental note to try to avoid similar episodes in the future
-          Seek help. If you find that you have tried different coping strategies, but they are not working, you should consider visiting a trained counsellor. They can provide you with additional insight and teach you different strategies. This is not an admission of failure, but instead a constructive step towards resolving a normal problem
The key takeaway here is that handling anxiety in a positive way is critical to keeping us motivated and making this year a meaningful one in terms of our cycling progression.

We are always keen to read magazines searching for the latest innovations in technology to upgrade our bikes or training systems, pay personal coaches to tailor our training plans, book massage sessions to help our muscles recover, eat a balanced diet to keep our weight under control  and have a gym membership to keep us going during the winter months or rainy days. 

All this is great, but we must remember that we have a brain and we need to look after that too. If we do not have the right mind-set, cycling can feel like a huge effort when it seems so effortless for others. As a result, we may find that the sport we love becomes less enjoyable to the point that we can’t feel that love anymore…. although we know it is still alive deep inside. 

It is important to look after ourselves to get the best of us and enjoy the sport we love and that means keep an eye on things related to our body but also on things related to our mind. I have been working in mental health for over 20 years now and also, I have been cycling in different categories and levels for another 20 years or more. So, I think at that point I can put the best of my experience in both mental health and cycling together and help you to understand better how linked are one with the other. I can offer 1 to 6 sessions (depending the issue you want to work on) and that would give us enough time to understand the problem and then put together your own tailored plan of action that will help you to overcome the issue or at least minimize the impact that is having on you . If you are a CCC member I will offer the first session for free and from there onwards a 20% discount for the total of sessions you will need. If you are not a CCC member the sessions fees would be £55 per 1h session. Please, feel free to send me an email and I can give you more information about how I work.