In Guy Winch’s TED Talk, “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid,” he proposes the idea that emotional care needs to be as commonplace as physical care. He gives an example of how natural it is for a five-year-old with a cut to put a Band-Aid on it; however, when people are feeling lonely or sad, they are told to brush it off–it is rare that people prioritize their emotional health in any way similar to that of their physical health.

Often, we are taught to be “tough” and to not let our emotions get the best of us; there’s a stigma surrounding emotional reactions, a stigma that is not synonymous with toughness. However, neglecting our mental health comes with a series of difficulties. As Winch shares his story of experiencing loneliness while being apart from his family and friends, he rattles off a few physical complications from his emotional struggle: “Loneliness won’t just make you miserable, it will kill you. I’m not kidding. Chronic loneliness increases your likelihood of an early death by 14 percent.Loneliness causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol. It even suppress the functioning of your immune system, making you vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses and diseases. In fact, scientists have concluded that taken together, chronic loneliness poses as significant a risk for your long-term health and longevity as cigarette smoking.” As he later states, one key difference (of many) between the effects of chronic loneliness and cigarette smoking is the recognition of the problem. One can easily say whether they smoke cigarettes: it is a yes or no answer. On the other hand, we may not be able to describe our loneliness, let alone recognize that this loneliness has taken a substantial toll on our lives.

We are constantly juggling numerous emotions, and some of these emotions will be heightened while playing a sport. Therefore, it is crucial that throughout our games and practices we regularly take a few minutes to do a quick self-check and see both where we are physically and where our emotions are. In-between games, for example: Did you go 0-4 at the plate yesterday and are now itching to get a hit? As you’re warming up, is your grip on the bat a little looser because your hands are sweating. Is your heart beating faster than normal before a game? It’s here that we combine our knowledge of the physical self with that of the emotional self. Recognize that those physical signs might stem from anxiety to get that hit. One way to combat anxious feelings is to utilize a few relaxation techniques. Maybe it’s deep breathing that helps calm you down or possibly picturing yourself in a tranquil place returns your heart rate to its resting pace–it could be a combination of the two. No matter your sport, make sure to consistently take time to assess how you are feeling in order to better understand where to focus your energy. Through working on recognizing what you are feeling and practicing what works to transform your stressful emotions into positive and productive feelings, you will be much better equipped to perform at your optimal level.