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Mental Coping in a Pandemic

Toolbox: Solitary cycling on trainers in the garage, basement, or back-of-the-dining room may be a far cry from a morning ride with your cycling friends through your favorite route. How do we mentally cope with this drastic change in our lifestyle?

By: Lisa Lewis, EdD, CADC-II, Licensed Psychologist.

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How to cope with Solitary cycling

Cancelled events.

Thwarted goals.

Staying at home.

As social creatures, we humans do not thrive when social distancing. The pandemic and its many consequences have had a negative impact on every person on earth. For those of you who are goal-directed and active, not only has it interfered with work, travel, and your social life, but it may also be wreaking havoc on your training.

Changes in where you ride and who you ride with may have cascading effects, negatively impacting how hard you ride, how long you ride, and most importantly, what you ‘get’ out of your ride. If riding is giving you less enjoyment, escape, stress reduction, camaraderie, and/or feelings of freedom than usual, you are not alone.

Despite the validity of your negative thoughts and/or feelings about how the pandemic is impacting your life and your training, continuing with your training is vital to not only maintaining as much strength and endurance as possible, but also to your mental health. If you love cycling, you need it in your life now, maybe more than ever!

Negative Thinking

The trick for some of you may be, “how can I get motivated to train, now that I don’t have a race to look forward to?” Or, “what’s the point of training if I can’t even push myself to train hard?” The solution to this problem is to reframe your negative thinking. Instead of focusing on what aspects of cycling you’ve “lost”, or can’t currently enjoy, you can reframe your thinking in order to leverage what you get out of cycling right now.

Negative thoughts about your life and your training are common, and in fact, are part of what make us human. Known to psychologists as negativity bias, we come hardwired with a sensitivity to negativity. Although in some cases, it can help us to be aware of our imperfections and shortcomings, an over focus can sap our energy and take a toll on performance.

Here are some common examples of negative thinking (2), that may be sapping your motivation or causing frustration right now: 

Black or white thinking

Thinking only in extremes – AKA all-or-nothing thinking.

Arbitrary Inference

Generalizing one negative comment or experience to be representative of everything in your life.

Catastrophizing

Thinking that the absolute worst thing that can happen, will happen.

Emotional Reasoning

Presuming that feelings are facts.

“Shoulds”

Focusing on how it “should” have gone down, as opposed to how they actually are.

Any of these negative thought patterns sound familiar? Also known as cognitive distortions, these styles of thinking often lead to discouragement, frustration, anger, sadness, and decreases in motivation. These emotions lead us to act in ways that oppose our goals. When you’re discouraged and thinking negatively, you’re less likely to push yourself hard or persist with a challenging goal. 

Identify and Reframe

You can identify negative thoughts that are interfering with your goals, and then change your thinking in order to move toward goal achievement, productivity, and happiness.


Don’t let it get you down

For example:

Call Yourself Out

Identify the negative thinking. When you notice it – either running through your mind or spilling out of your mouth – say to yourself, “A Ha! There I go, getting all mad about training “for nothing” – that’s not helping…”

Just simply noticing the negativity can help you to slow down and even stop it.

Look at the Data

Change your perspective so that you can observe the negative thought from an objective place, as if you were a scientist and the thought were a piece of data – what is that thing? Where is it coming from? Is it productive and in support of your goal? Getting some perspective is the next step in stopping negative thoughts and getting back on track.

Reframe, Regroup, Move Forward

You can change your thinking. Remind yourself, “it’s a feeling, not a fact”. Or, “Just because I’m bummed about riding alone and about not having a competition to train for, it doesn’t mean training doesn’t matter, or wouldn’t be beneficial.”

When you use your thinking for good, and create new, positive thoughts that lead to productivity, you are able to unstick yourself, and continue moving forward.

Focus on the Present Moment

Think about your tasks. Not your appraisals/opinions/criticisms.

This task orientation can help to stoke motivation. If you are thrashing yourself and/or beating yourself up about changes in your weight, your plateaued progress, or some other outcome, shift your thinking to what you are doing in the present moment.

See if you can make all of the contents of your thoughts about right here, and right now, and then go into whatever training experience you have access to. If you get present and focused on your task, even if that means riding on a trainer, alone on an unchallenging course, or when you’re tired, it will still lead to positive outcomes. Stress and anxiety will wane, negative thoughts will subside, and you’ll have the added benefit of getting some mileage in.

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Be happy!

Summary

Yes, maintenance of your strength and endurance is important, and your progress in those areas may plateau or even back slide during the pandemic. But, your mental health, resilience, and hopefulness about the future are equally important! And continuing in your training, however modified that may be, is central to maintaining those aspects of your health.

References:

  1. Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S, Gollan JK. The negativity bias: Conceptualization, quantification, and individual differencesBehavioral and Brain Sciences. 2014;37(3):309-310.
  2. Beck, A. (1976). Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. International Universities Press 
  3. Burns, D. (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook. Penguin Books, NY. 

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