As the Summer Olympics draw to a close, a few hundred lucky athletes will head home with a medal. The vast majority, however, will leave empty-handed—their hopes and dreams for winning Olympic gold crushed.
I have to admit I have a love-hate relationship with the Olympics, and with all sports for that matter. I can admire the stunning feats of athleticism and the effort, commitment, and focus it takes to push oneself to achieve the seemingly impossible. But I have worked with enough anxious, stressed, depressed, confused, and suicidal Olympians and professional athletes to know that the sacrifices they make are sometimes greater than the rewards.
We can thank tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles for shining a spotlight on the mental health issues that elite athletes face. But these brave women already have the hardware—Grand Slam trophies for Osaka and gold medals for Biles. So many others put in just as much dedication and face the same emotional issues but never reach that pinnacle of greatness.
When a dream dries up in mere seconds, as so many do in the Olympics, it can open a chasm of agony. Devastating defeats can leave athletes at every level feeling worthless, inadequate, and like they’ve wasted years of their lives.
As I say to my athlete patients, training to be the best by beating others is a recipe for unhappiness. Training to be your best (especially by helping others be their best), however, is a recipe for happiness.
How can you cope with similar defeat, even as a recreational athlete? Here are five proven strategies to add to your playbook: