The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We all fall on a continuum of wellbeing and can benefit from taking care of ourselves mentally. We all fluctuate from day to day and year to year depending on stressors, experiences, and many other factors. As athletes, we talk constantly about how we push and train ourselves in the weight room or in the pool to be the best in our sport. We are mindful of our nutrition and sleep to make sure we are prepared for each day. We attend school and study to gain knowledge, to prepare ourselves for life after swimming. Yet too often we fail to put aside time for ourselves, time to strengthen our mind beyond academic means. We over train, over study, and rarely stop to smell the roses, stop to take a deep breath, stop to take care of ourselves. Here are 5 simple ways to put yourself and your mental well-being first…
1) Value yourself
When you value yourself at the very core your self-esteem increases. Through this you must treat yourself with kindness and respect. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone fumbles along their life journey. Better understanding that this is normal and not over criticizing yourself allows for growth, allows for you to learn from mistakes and move forward in life. Here’s a little video of a little girl who has mastered this:
2) Stop and smell the roses
Take time for yourself, enjoy a hobby, walk through the park, drink coffee on the porch while listening to the birds chirp, or get a massage. Removing technology for moments through the day and listening to the sounds around us allows for reflection, mindfulness, and mediation. These are all important in our ever-busy lives. Enjoying leisure activities can reduce stress, increase positive emotions, distract us from difficulties, and even build our confidence. If you do not stop to notice the positives in your life, it’s like they barely exist. Unfortunately, our daily demands sometimes block our ability to savor these moments. Take the time, savor it, enjoy it, live it.
3) Do something for others
Doing good for others can make you feel good as well. Putting energy into others may remind you that you’re relatively lucky, it might make you feel connected to others, maybe it will help you feel needed, it may effectively take your mind off your own worries for a while, it can make you feel generous and/or add a sense of purpose and meaning to your life. Whatever the reason or feeling you have for doing something for others it has been proven to have a positive impact on your mental and emotional health. There are always ways to get involved, to help others, to give back.
4) Create joy, love, and happiness within your life
Studies have shown that laughing decreases pain, it can help your heart and lungs, it promotes muscle relaxation and can dramatically reduce anxiety. Positive emotions can decrease stress and build emotional resiliency. We don’t always need to add new activities to get more pleasure in our life. Remembering number 2 above can also help. Here are some tips to help find joy in your life.
Mindfulness: Being mindful means being fully aware of yourself and your surroundings. If you think about it like having a meal, being mindful means feeling the textures, tasting the flavors, enjoying the aromas, don’t rush and stay present. This is one example of a mindful experience there are many others to enjoy throughout the day.
Share the joy: When you have an exciting or positive experience share it with someone else, tell a friend about it. That way you’ll get to relive the moment again.
Let it out: When you’re feeling good, throw your whole self into it. Go ahead, jump up and down, clap your hands, who cares what others think, remember value yourself. Research shows that if you act out a certain emotion, you can fire up that feeling.
5) Talk to someone
There is still a stigma around counseling, talking to others about stressors going on, or feeling the need to tough out the struggles. Guess what, EVERYONE struggles at some point and typically more than once in their life.
If you or someone you know is feeling bad or suicidal, there is help available right away. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.
However, you don’t have to be in crisis to seek help. Why wait until you’re really suffering? I am a firm believer in a preventative model. Learning positive coping skills, building your self confidence, and quite frankly understanding yourself better can help in most all aspects of life.
A mental health professional can help you with:
- Help with solving problems: remember the quote two heads are better than one
- They can help you discover strength in the face of obstacles
- Everyone has behaviors we want to change and they can help you acknowledge and work through those changes
- Help you understand yourself better, many times we are blinded
- They can help heal pains from your past
- Not only help you figure out your goals but help you work to achieve them
- Self-confidence is the driving factor in many aspects of life, they can help you build it, maintain it, and strengthen it
- Most importantly just being present to hear and see you
Emily Brunemann is a professional swimmer, training with Club Wolverine at the University of Michigan. She graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 2009 and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Social Work, with a concentration in interpersonal practice and mental health. Emily is interning in the University of Michigan Athletic Department counseling services and helping with the Athletes Connected program. She is a former team captain, NCAA champion, 2013 Open Water World Cup Circuit Champion and a member of the US National Team since 2007.