Mental Health for Athletes
You guys are so supportive. Thank you for your high fives on my triumphant return.
In typical fashion, I delayed the progress by doing the RAID THE HAMMER this past Sunday and although my physiotherapist and coach probably threw something across the room when I told them that I participated, they are both athletes themselves and were pretty understanding considering. (read: 30 KM of up and down on the Niagara Escarpment on a healing stress fracture).
I am giving myself an extra week to allow inflammation go down and to make sure it is all systems go. I just don’t want you guys thinking for one second that I have it all together. I love racing and I love opportunity and it was a risk to do the race, but it was 100% worth it. I will be back with a full review on Friday, but for now, I wanted to chat mental health.
It is mental health awareness week and although I am a strong advocate for physical health, mental health is something that I try to discuss often as well. Last week, I touched on eating disorders and this week, I wanted to put a bit of a positive spin on things and talk about what you can do as an athlete to keep your mental health strong. It is proven over and over that once you tap into the maximum of your physical potential, it is the mental side of things that helps athletes excel beyond other’s in their field.
I don’t think I need to tell you why sleep is vital to athletic performance, but sometimes it’s a struggle to get a good night’s sleep. I set an alarm on my smart phone every night at 8:30 to remind me to start thinking about going to bed. I wake up to go to the track, pool or gym at 4:30 or 5 AM each morning, so I have the bedtime of a grandmother.
I also use a sleep tracker called Sleep Cycle which records my quality of sleep and allows me to enter sleep notes, so I can monitor how well I am sleeping and check out the factors that may be causing me to not sleep as well.
Speaking of factors, I wanted to chat about ways to ensure that you ARE sleeping well.
Caffeine – especially late in the day. I have a cup of coffee in the morning and if I think I need something mid-afternoon, I make sure it is decaf.
Eating or Drinking Before Bed – This one is awkward considering I have a box of Genuine Health protein bars on my night stand table at all times, but it can disturb your sleep patterns to need to be digesting AND resting.
Nicotine and Alcohol – For all you party people out there.
Physical Activity – Again, I have been known to come in from a workout, chug a Rumble and pass out, but that probably isn’t the best idea for a solid sleep.
Long Naps – Ever have a sweet nap and then find yourself staring at the ceiling at 3 AM? I love naps, but I try to keep them 45 minutes or less to keep myself from entering REM and messing up my night’s sleep.
Screens – Turn off your TV, tablet and smartphone at least an hour before bed. Don’t do what I do and watch an episode of something before sleeping.
Routine: Set a ritual for yourself. Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
Comfort: Have a good mattress and soft pillow. Unless you are like me and sleep like Dracula on your back, with no pillow, arms folded across your chest. I read a nonsensical article when I was a teenager that suggested that sleeping on your side trains your breasts to be lopsided when you are old. I know it is completely false, but the mental damage was done and I sleep on my back. (I wrote an article a while back on the best sleeping positions for runners here).
A Dark Room: No night lights, people.
Be Self Aware
We are super in tune with our bodies, but make sure you are in tune with your mind. Every autumn, I fall into a bit of a slump. I am probably a bit over trained or injured from a summer of racing and competing hard and my brain has been in competition mode. There is less heat and sunlight which means I am cold and sapped of Vitamin D. Make it a priority to get yourself a good source of Vitamin D and B vitamins. The days shorten and it is ALWAYS DARK. This really wears on the psyche and you can find yourself feeling a bit blah, sad or with a shorter fuse. Acknowledge these things and pay attention to them. Seek medical help if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and spend time with friends, find new and interesting things to be involved in, work towards a goal or anything that keeps you engaged.
Focusing on a negative can really cause you to spiral. Whether it was a race time that you were unable to achieve this year or a life stress, allow yourself to feel the frustration and then ask yourself whether or not you can do anything about it. If you can’t, then let it go. Most of the things we worry about never happen.
Learn to Say No
This is one that I am still working hard at, but it is beginning to click for me. When someone asks me to take on an initiative, event or project that I think will add unnecessary stress to my life, I simply answer that I am actively trying to weed out stress in my life. There really isn’t anything they can do to push this (unless it is your boss – don’t say this to your boss..) I have the fear of missing out but I have come to realize that being everywhere is not realistic and even if I could be, I would be too tired to enjoy it all. Pick and choose your battles.
Have some Guilty Pleasures
You do NOT need to be productive 24/7. In fact, powering off was a hard one for me, but after I wrote this post in the fall, something clicked for me and I have made stress-relief a priority and the change has been incredible. I am reading books and magazines and watching more TV. My absolute favourites are Orphan Black and Prison Break.
Stay balanced, friends.
What is your favourite TV show?
How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
What position do you sleep in?