Emotional Fitness

Just as you can train and condition your body, you can also train and condition your mind to think more clearly and feel less stress. Enlisting the help of other supportive people, or a therapist or counselor, can be very helpful. Therapists most commonly have degrees in social work or psychology. Sometimes, psychiatrists or educational counselors also specialize in sports counseling.

Sports and exercise therapists are specialists who are trained to identify, manage, and prevent the pressures and negative stressors in sports and athletics. These therapists recognize the role of stress and the pressures that active women at all levels of competition and achievement face with the realization that stress can become overwhelming enough to interfere with other aspects of life. They can provide training in the most effective way to gain the "mental edge" needed to excel. This is essential to peak performance among top athletes who cannot afford to mentally fall apart.

The mind can also be controlled by the effects of exercise. One of the most pleasing benefits of exercise is the release of chemicals called endorphins, which make you feel good. Your body responds to endorphins like a mood-enhancing drug; endorphins can even be addictive. Because of this, you can develop exercise dependence and addiction, in which your body and mind crave exercise. Addiction to exercise is only dangerous when female athletes overdo their training and sports to a point of poor health, which can also lead to injury. Meeting with a sports psychologist is recommended to help with feeling controlled or overwhelmed by expectations and performance obligations in sports and life.

A positive mood and positive emotions include happiness, pride, confidence, and high self-esteem. A positive, healthy emotional outlook is key to success in all aspects of life. Knowing that you are willingly working hard for your sport or task at hand puts you in charge of the training for the challenge. This makes it a positive experience for you, one for which you have control and accept eagerly. A negative mood and negative emotions include depression, poor self-esteem, self-criticism, anger, and bitterness. Negative emotions prevent success and drain the energy needed for your daily routine and activities.

Depression is the most common negative emotion in women. It is commonly treated with therapy and medications, but research has shown that regular exercise can be as effective as medications to treat depression. One example is the "runner's high," which can occur in all sports and is due to the release of hormones called endorphins. This feeling of euphoria, happiness, and bliss often occurs with intense sports activity. When you are happy, you feel less pain. When you smile, you can work harder. When you feel the pleasure and rush of endorphins, you can push yourself farther.

Self-esteem is having a feeling of self-importance and self-value. This is an essential quality to many aspects of life, particularly those related to success. Self-esteem allows you to feel more control over your situation, because you are able to speak up for and defend yourself if there is a problem. Standing up for yourself contributes to a sense of accomplishment with great satisfaction and overall happiness.

Self-esteem is vital to achieving goals, being independent, and allowing your life and sports goals to be as you want them to be. You are ruled by yourself, not by others, and this allows you to make wise decisions. You know right from wrong and will not be bullied. Self-esteem is important in situations of sexual discrimination and for preventing and defending yourself from dangerous attacks. Self-esteem allows you to stand up to anyone and not let them interfere with your success or take advantage of you.

From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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