When I tell people that I’m a Stress Management Coach, the first question I usually get is “how did you get into that?” Well, truth be told, I got involved with helping individuals handle stress in one of the most stressful environments in our society, that gets vastly overlooked- college campuses.
As a former collegiate athlete and coach, I’ve seen first-hand what the pressure and stress can do to student-athletes. When I was a graduate assistant coach I noticed how much emphasis we were putting into the performance outcome of our athletes, but were doing nothing to train them mentally. I recall having my own mental struggles throughout undergrad and knowing there was no outlet to talk about it or learn from it. The emphasis was all about how fast, how strong, how high we could jump- physical conditioning. As a new coach, fresh out of undergrad myself, I took it upon myself to begin implementing “mental conditioning” sessions with my team.
As athlete minded individuals, we’re competitive and we’re tough. We push through and don’t make excuses for ourselves. We rarely take off days and have a winning mindset. This can be a great thing, but it can also be harmful when it comes to serious issues like mental health. Active athletes experience depression and anxiety at a slightly lower rate than non-athletes, but they are less likely to report it. This could be because of the stigma of being “weak.”
It’s important to take mental health just as seriously as physical health. As athletes, we’re taught to be mentally tough, that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” At times, it can be tough to distinguish the boundary of pushing yourself or your athletes to be “mentally tough” and perhaps pushing beyond what is healthy. If an athlete sprains an ankle to the point it’s swollen, something visible, it’s acceptable for them to sit out of practice while they heal, but if an athlete were hurting in the same fashion on the inside (mentally)- there’s no get out of practice card for that one.
There has been a big push to address mental health issues globally. According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people around the world have depression and 800,000 people die by suicide every year. These are the cases that are known, many suffer in silence for various reasons.
If you don’t suffer from mental illness, imagine the worst physical pain that you’ve had, but that it was internal with no visible proof. Even if you feel as if you are currently mentally healthy, there are preventative measures to ensure you continue feeling that way. If you suffer from mental health, first, know that you are not the only one that feels this way. You may not see it on your social media feed, but others struggle and suppress their true pain just like you.
We’ve been trained to prioritize our physical well-being our entire lives; now it’s time to start doing the same for our mental well-being. Here are some exercises you can do to strength your mental well-being, it’s time for some “mental conditioning:”
You don’t need to emulate a two-day practice back in your prime years, but make sure that you’re still being active. This could even be walking or yoga if your body took some rough hits back in the day. It’s important to keep our bodies healthy and it plays a huge role in how we feel about ourselves which contributes to your mental well-being. This includes maintaining a healthy diet. What you allow into your body and into your mind are equally as important.
Prioritize Time to Talk About Mental Health
Even if it’s just a weekly 10-minute team check-in with your co-workers, employees, softball recreation teammates, family, or friends. Create a safe space to normalize talking about mental health, this allows others to see that they are not alone with their struggles. Many people suppress how they feel because they feel like they’re the only one that is feeling that way. In an era of striving to make your life look as glamorous as possible on social media, many are just striving to fit in with everyone else- even if “everyone else” is giving a fake persona of their actual feelings.
Manage Your Stress
The University of California-Berkeley conducted a study that found stress can make the brain more susceptible to mental illness. This will look different for each person. It could include more mindfulness practices (meditation, yoga, etc.), learning to prioritize your time better, or developing a state of positive thinking during trying times. By learning to control your thoughts, emotions and actions you will keep yourself out of “fight or flight” mode and be in better mental state.
Limit Your Time on Social Media
Technology has done so much to improve our lives. We can find out information in a split second that would have taken 20-minutes back in our Encyclopedia days. However, the ability to constantly be connected and see the highlight reel of others’ lives can leave us feeling drained about our own. If we’re not having a great day or moment and we proceed to spend 30 minutes looking at how happy, successful and wonderful everyone else is doing –it’s going to have negative effects on our mental well-being. Practice limiting your time on social media and only using it intentionally- not because you’re bored, it’s habit, or because you want to compare your life to others.
Engage in Authentic Relationships
Get out in the real world and find your tribe! Whether that be getting involved with your favorite sport or meeting up for coffee, intentionally bond with others beyond technological constraints. Remember the good ol’ days when you’d meet up in the street to play a game outside with the neighborhood kids? It’s time to do that same thing, but as an adult now. This will strengthen your mental well-being through connectivity and a sense of belonging.
Reserve time for yourself to just be still. On average, we have 70,000 thoughts per day. If you are always on the go how do you expect to ever process what’s going on inside of your brain? That voice in your head is constantly talking and bringing noise into your life. Take time for yourself to block out the noise, process thoughts, or just practice boredom.
Once an athlete, always an athlete, but it’s time to shift our mindset. It’s time to prioritize our mental well-being just as much as our physical. Try to stop being so tough on yourself, it’s okay to have a “bad day.” Invest in your own mental health and create safe spaces for others to talk about their own mental well-being.
A book I highly recommend is What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, the captivating and enlightening story of Madison Holleran and her struggles with mental illness. Madison was an All-American teenager that had “everything going for her” (from the outside). She was a freshman at Penn and a student-athlete on the track & field team when she took her own life at just 19 years old.
Originally published on www.prioritizingyou.com