We spoke with Martyna Trajdos, Judo World Medallist and Olympian from Germany, who is completing her Master’s degree in Health Management, Rehab, and Prevention from the University of Cologne. During this quarantine, Martyna has been writing her Master’s thesis, focusing on the topic of mental health among elite athletes.
According to Martyna, many high level athletes suffer from depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and more. The nature of competitive sport can make recognizing the signs and symptoms difficult, because for years it was assumed that mental disorders hindered athletic success, she quotes (source: Bär and Markser, 2019). Especially in this time of quarantine, Martyna emphasizes the importance of being aware of your health and needs, knowing that you do not have to go through this on your own, and looking for/accepting help if you are struggling.
“This quarantine situation is new for all of us!”, she says. “Until February, we were all fighting for the Olympic qualification and suddenly just like that the world kind of stopped. We used to be in at least two different countries each month and now all we see is the supermarket and our homes. Our short term goals changed immediately! In the beginning the situation seemed to be relaxing but soon you know all Netflix movies and you start to be bored and annoyed, and this can cause stress.”
Here are some suggestions from Martyna on how to stay healthy mentally and physically during lockdown:
1. Keep ROUTINES - for example, wake up every day at 8, practice, study...
2. Use the time to work on something you always wanted to IMPROVE - for example mobility, endurance or learning a new language
3. Use this time to RECOVER and RELAX properly - Our body goes through crazy tortures with judo it is very important to make the most of this time
4. Maybe even work on your FUTURE - for example you could continue your study
5. Spend time with your FAMILY
6. Check in on your TEAMMATES
7. Build SUPPORT NETWORKS
8. BE THANKFUL - Remind yourself of things you're thankful for
Martyna herself follows her own guidelines. During lockdown, she has been working on her thesis, cooking lots of different meals, and training every day to improve her weaknesses.
We also spoke with Colton Brown, top judoka from the United States, who describes his “rollercoaster of emotions” during quarantine: “At the start of quarantine when it was first announced that the Olympics were postponed for a year, like most other athletes, I was pretty sad. Shortly after, I realized that this virus is much bigger than sport and the only thing that I can control in this situation is my mindset. To be honest, I have gone through a rollercoaster of emotions."
“Mental health is always a serious matter,” Colton continues. “Especially during times like this. One of the only things we as athletes have control over right now is our thoughts, and during times of chaos and uncertainty, a positive mindset can go a long way. I love how many resources I’ve seen for mental health help on social media this month (National Mental Health Awareness Month). If you’re suffering, please don’t be afraid to seek help!”
French double World Medallist, Axel Clerget, shares similar sentiments. “I think it's important to keep good mental health no matter what,” says Axel. “A champion is someone who is good in head and in body. Competitions are still far away, so you have to focus on a period of day-to-day progress. For me, staying in the present allowed me to stay in good mental shape. Now we have time to calm down, stay a little at home and spend time with those we love, which is the best medication for mental health, I think.
This lockdown has proved challenging for many, and the end of confinement will no doubt come with a new wave of mental strain on all athletes (adjusting back to civilization, different routines, etc).
But Judoka are no strangers to adversity. Competing in a discipline like Judo requires mental toughness, resilience, and tolerance -- getting through this pandemic will require the same.
As with all challenges, this unique confinement will only make us stronger. As Moroccan judoka Assmaa Niang explains, “We can only adapt ourselves to the situation. Something very special is that at one point we will all resume our judo career and we will all have lived the same experience. All athletes together we went through the same difficult time and I believe that it will make our judo family grow.”