Bianca Andreescu (left) closes her eyes and meditates during a yoga session designed to help with stress and anxiety.

Photo : Pascal Ratthe

Everyone can achieve mental health, the same way everyone can achieve physical health, says Marie-Josée Bellemare, Director of Wellness at Tennis Canada. One of the many ways to take care of or nurture mental health is recognizing the signs of stress and anxiety. 

While stress, she says, can have a positive effect, often igniting increased productivity and focus, it can also have a negative impact. The stress response is related to something external and goes away when the cause goes away, but anxiety, she explains, is more like a reaction to stress with thoughts persisting even when the threat is gone. 

“Let’s say I want to cross the street and I see a car coming,” Bellemare says. “The stress response will get me out of the way, and when the car passes, my stress goes away. If I’m getting more anxious, I might be overthinking, ‘Maybe cars are dangerous,’ or ‘Maybe I should not cross the street anymore.’  

When anxiety persists, it can significantly impact your overall health. You may experience increased irritability, reduced patience, decreased focus, and difficulty sleeping. Additionally, it can contribute to fatigue, digestive issues and strain on your relationships with others. 

To check in with yourself, you can use the mental health continuum

Bellemare, whose role involves assisting athletes, coaches, parents, and staff in implementing well-being strategies and connecting them with necessary resources when needed, acknowledges that stress and anxiety are aspects of life. Part of coping with life stressors is to understand your triggers, recognize your symptoms, and identify positive coping skills. 

“People cope differently with life stressors. Some coping skills are more positive and some are negative. One example of a positive coping skill is to use helpful thoughts towards yourself. One way to do it is to picture a best friend or someone you really love going through that same situation,” says Bellemare. “What would you say to that friend? Likely, it’s going to be positive. It can help people reframe thoughts they have towards themselves. 

“Other positive coping skills involve integrating habits that positively influence daily life. This may include scheduling time to socialize with people that make you feel good, taking brief breaks throughout the day to stretch and be mindful, and cultivating awareness of sleep patterns, diet, and environmental influences,” she says.

Examples of negative coping mechanisms include overtraining, procrastination, avoidance of tasks and excessive social media use. 

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It’s time to seek professional help if you’ve attempted to implement strategies but symptoms persist or if your symptoms are interfering with your daily life. This may manifest as difficulty maintaining positive relationships with family, focusing at work, or being on time. 

Throughout the country, various organizations can connect you with licensed mental health practitioners, catering to both sports-related needs and those of the general population. Additionally, many workplaces offer employee assistance programs. However, a practical starting point is often your family doctor, whom you’re already familiar with and who can connect you with valuable resources. Find more mental health resources at the link here. 

Ultimately, Bellemare says it’s about understanding when matters are beyond our control. While we may not be able to influence current world events, we can manage when and how much we engage with the news. Similarly, we can’t dictate the weather, but can dress accordingly. Recognizing stress triggers, whether they stem from novel and unpredictable situations like pregnancy or perceived threats to our ego such as someone doubting our abilities, is crucial. 

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“When our body is talking to us with symptoms, it’s an opportunity to be attentive and take positive supportive actions.” 

In the event of an emergency or a crisis, please call 9-1-1 for immediate assistance or go to your nearest hospital emergency room.  

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call or text 9-8-8.