We all need to look after our mental health… and we need to able to talk about mental health challenges, the same way we can easily talk about catching cold or spraining an ankle.
I see the inability to talk and address issues, pretending to be tough, as a massive issue for society and we need to find a dialogue and common terms for our challenges. I also see mental health as a continuum with us all being on the spectrum. The polarised idea that we are sane or crazy is just plan wrong.
I wanted to share my experiences with managing my mental health, in particular using swim, bike & run training. I am not a mental health professional, however this does not invalidate my experiences, but please do not take my experiences as professional advice!
Finally, if you feel that you cannot cope with any issue, please get in touch with someone who can help… don’t try to tough it out. There is no medal for suffering in your mind.
I work full time, bring up two kids and do long distance triathlon and endurance sports…. This is a recipe for stress! I am frequently asked how do I not go crazy juggling it all. For me I find that the stress of scheduling is more than offset by the mental regenerative effect of training. I also like being a little bit crazy!
I find that when I am moving, focusing on my training goals or form, that my mind tends to quieten down, sometimes entering a “flow state”. This seems to reduce the recurring stress thoughts to a manageable level. On top of this my body has an outlet for any built up tension. This feels like a preventative measure helping me keep balance over the long term.
On the flip side, if I am overly concerned about something and use training as a way to escape, this can backfire… the training session becomes unfocused and I may as well have not done it. In these cases, I am much better trying to work on the stressor and get some help. I am not perfect at this, however I normally can sense the difference, particularly if my sleep is affected.
Depression & Feeling Low
After going through the divorce from hell 5 years ago, I found myself with the company of the dark dog of depression. At the time I needed some clinical help, however now whenever I sense the dark dog entering the room, I hopefully know how to react.
When I sense this, I try to find some friends and go for a long ride or a run. There is something about moving with someone that enables a more open conversation. I think it’s because you can change pace and breath… not every second has to be filled with chat. It feels more real. Doing this seems to re-enforce my connection and chase the dark dog away.
On the downside, I always find the days after a hard race tough, mainly because the fatigue in my body is present after the race-day adrenalin high has gone… while having to rest, its difficult to stay positive. I try and schedule a spa day to provide some nice recovery treatments in this period.
Insecurity & Self worth
My self esteem varied wildly before I took up endurance sports. In particular being concerned about getting fat and old. This really let my feelings of self worth diminish, this was a recipe for allowing some unacceptable events in my life.
I have found the becoming an age-grouper and constantly challenging myself to improve upon my past performances, has really stopped this. It has let me feel positive about myself and generated some self respect. I think it also shifted my identity away from the middle-aged dad stereotype, to something way more positive.
The downside comes if I get injured… the feeling of going back in time as my fitness score crumbles can be annoying! When this happens I try to focus on some mental education (language courses!)…
Like many people of my generation, I grew up with the work hard, play hard ethic. This has led to some of the most amazing times of my life, but also some of the worst! In my case, ongoing partying was something that could always creep up.
I know that when I am training, that I cannot improve when the night before was spent with friends in a bar until 2am… and through time I have made this a much rarer occurrence. Through analysis of this behaviour, I have found that I only miss the conversations that occurred at the beginning of the evening, never the shenanigans later. I now try and mix social interactions with training… keeping me sober! Thankfully I have never got in the habit of the post-workout beers.
One downside of this is that my social circle can be come a little one dimensional, full of sport types. This can leave me sometimes as a triathlon bore when I get with other groups. I try and manage this by letting myself relax a couple of time a month for a few beers with friends… but I have to be careful not to get into old habits!
This is a little bit independent from Tri, but works for me.
I stumbled up this by accident. It was never really on the radar for me, being out there with what I thought of as dodgy science. I did however manage to get roped into a couple of session when I was at a sauna and though I would give it a try myself.
Being a geek, this meant downloading the Calm app and doing around ten minutes guided meditation each day. After a few weeks I began to notice that I was able to observe my thoughts more clearly and somehow had learned to take a step back before reacting.
This in general has helped me become just a little bit more calm, and somehow feel just a little better.
Please feedback if these insights are useful! I am conscious that I am only sharing from my point of view and that what works for me might not work for someone else. Let me know if you would like me to share some links and resources behind these points.