Tuesday 10th October marked the official 'Mental Health Day' around the world.
I wasn't actually aware it was going on until Twitter brought it to my attention. I starting scrolling through the variety of tweets relating to #worldmentalhealthday and was so pleased that so many of the 267 different people and channels I follow were mentioning it. It's been widely discussed that in the past there has been a bit of a taboo about talking about mental health. I personally still think there is a bit of a taboo but things have definitely come a long way. More and more people are openly discussing their mental health, one of them being my Rio team mate Helen Richardson-Walsh. If you have't read her interview on the BBC Sport website, you really should (find it here). I found it an emotional and powerful read - a great insight into how mind and elite sport work together.
Having a healthy mind as an elite athlete is, I think, more important than having a healthy body. I believe (and some may beg to differ, that's fine!) that elite top level sports is about 75% mental. Every single player in our GB Womens Hockey squad has talent - fact. When fresh and the pressure is off, we all have the ability to perform very similar skills at similar standards and can make correct decisions on the pitch. What sets us, as players, apart is the ability to constantly make correct decisions and execute on skills over and over again under extreme fatigue and pressure. The difference between the two scenario's? The mind. It's about how athletes can control how they react to the external noises, racing thoughts, negative feelings, increased pressure, dips in confidence. The list could go on.
Through some up and down times over the last 5 or 6 years, I learnt the importance of training the mind as well as the body. Our team psych, Dr Andrea Furst, often talks about the brain as a muscle we need to train just like the rest of the muscles in our body. You stop training it, it will start to relapse and lose it's strength. It's very much like if you stop training your body. Think about it, how quickly does fitness tend to go during the off season?? Way to quickly....
I'd thought I'd share a few ways how I look after my mental health, seeing as it is pretty important in what I do...
1) Turn off social media notifications on my phone. This means Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn..the lot. I found that whenever a little red 1 appeared next to the app, I felt a need and urge to look. It distracted me from what I was doing and often caused a negative emotional response. Having turned off my notifications, I can focus on what I'm actually doing and live in the real world, with real people, rather than the social media world.
2) I use the app Headspace and have done for the past 3 or so years. In the last year I've meditated for a total of 21 hours and completed 118 sessions. The benefits are slow and gradual but definitely present. The 10 minute meditations help me stay in the present, learn about myself and my thoughts and also help me sleep more peacefully.
3) I remember to strive for 'excellence not perfection'. Lots of elite sportsmen and women are perfectionists - it's a common trait for us to have. Rewind 5 or so years and I was one too. The problem I was having was that I could never reach that perfect outcome I always wanted. In my eyes I was always failing. I now strive for excellence. I can reach this. I'm nicer to myself. I have the ability to look at the positive things I did during a match or training rather than focus solely on the negatives.
4) Plan nice things. I always have something nice planned on the horizon to look forward to - a hair cut, getting my nails done or even just to block out an afternoon to go to David Lloyd and sit in the steam room and sauna all afternoon undisturbed....bliss. It helps create a little light at the end of what sometimes can be a long and dark tunnel.
5) Read. This is the most recent change I've made and started in February with thanks to my New Years Resolution blog. Reading used to be limited to either the Daily Mail app or sporadically on holiday if I was really bored. Since February Ive really got into reading and have found it really benefits my mind. Firstly it can act as a distraction from the busy world we live in and allow me to focus on someone else's life or story. It aids my sleep too. I sleep a lot better after Ive read 10 or so pages of my book.
And that's it. 5 simple tricks I use to look after my mental health.