Sport and my mental health

I have suffered from anxiety for years. It’s the kind of anxiety that I can usually keep at

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Feeling happy and relaxed after a day out on the bike.

bay. Most people won’t realize I have it because I hide it relatively well. Instead of thinking: Oh, she’s anxious; people probably just think: Huh. She’s a bit of an odd one.

Sport has played a huge role in helping me manage my anxiety. No matter how bad I’m feeling, if I can just get myself out that door and go on a run, for example, I know that my anxiety or stress will almost immediately dissipate.

I have found that the rhythm of sport—of running, of cycling, of hiking, of swimming—puts my mind almost magically at ease. Sport and my daily prayers are my form of meditation. They are how I cut myself off from the daily grind and tear myself away from one screen or the other, if even for a few minutes, to clear my head and start anew.

There’s a “but” coming up.

But, recently, as I’ve felt myself less and less able to manage my stress and anxiety as successfully as I have at times in the past, I’ve been reviewing my lifestyle choices to try to find ways to improve things.

Last year, while I was training to do an Ironman, my days were completely and utterly full-on. That is good in one way. Being busy doesn’t give the mind time to wander. It might have been good for me at the time; as a temporary thing. But now, post-Ironman and as I try to find my way with sport this year, I have found myself struggling sometimes because, in many ways, I am still in the Ironman frame of mind.

If you have followed me over the past five years, you’ll know that I’ve never really liked running, for example. In fact, I am pretty sure I have said that I hate it. I’m now learning that that isn’t really the case. Not anymore, anyway. I actually sort of like it now. But I am finding it difficult, stressful even, to think that, in order to get a run done plus everything else I am meant to do in a day, that I have no choice but to get up extra early and go for a run before breakfast.

Another example: I enjoy my swim training sessions. I really really do. I love trying to figure out from the swim drills what I need to do to improve my technique. I also love pushing myself and trying to be just a tiny bit faster. I’m finding it more and more difficult to do that, however, when I train with other people. Lately, when I’ve been to my club swim sessions, I have found myself unnecessarily stressing that I’m holding someone up behind me, or that I’m just too slow and not improving. The second I get into that mindset, I can’t perform the way I know that I am capable of.

I am also struggling with the whole concept of racing these days for the same reason. I compare myself too much to others and then I frustrate myself, get anxious, get stressed, and cannot perform.

I need to change that mindset. It’s unnecessary and it’s only in my head. I’m working on it.

In the meantime, I am learning that I need to remove myself from my anxiety and stress triggers.

So this year I’ve only booked one race. It’s a race that I did last year and one that I enjoyed tremendously. (I’ll tell you about it once I’ve done it.) I’m not concerned about getting a better time. It would be nice to get a good time, but that’s not why I’m doing the race. I’m doing the race because it is such a nice weekend away and day out. It also gives me something to focus my training on. I want to keep fit. But I need goals to aim for.

I’ve also booked a time trial on the bike. I’ve never done one of those before and I thought it might be fun.

Other than those, however, I don’t feel any desire or need to be involved in competitive sport.

For a few weeks now, I have decided that it’s all right not to go to the club swim sessions. I also don’t need to do my solitary swim at 6:30AM, when my gym pool, believe it or not, is competitively full. And I only go out for a pre-breakfast run if the sun is out and the weather is pulling me toward the door.

Instead, I’m slowing down, but only in my head. I wake up, have breakfast, drink my tea, get some work done, and THEN I might go for a swim when the pool is less full or for a run when I’m not stressing about all the work I still have to do.

This year I want to re-work my time and re-focus my mind so that I am less stressed and anxious about the things I love to do. That sounds like it’s easy. It really isn’t. Not for someone like me. Not for someone that gets anxious because she wants to get many things done in a single day but can’t always. Not for someone that gets stressed about travelling anywhere even though she absolutely loves travelling. Not for someone that decides to go on an adventure because she really really really wants to, but the minute it’s booked and paid for, she can’t understand why the heck she decided to do it.

I need all that to go away. I need my head to be calm. This year, I am re-framing my relationship with sport so that it does for me what I need it to do: keep me physically and mentally fit.

The mind is so much more difficult to train and to keep healthy than the body, in my experience.

Hopefully, this year, I’ll find my way.

This post makes it sound like sport is my main source of anxiety. It’s actually one of my main relievers of anxiety. My anxiety is due to a number of deep-seated, therapy-worthy issues that require professional help. I am getting that professional help. The main message I am trying to make to myself with this post is that I think that refocusing my relationship with sport can play a role in helping me manage my anxiety further.

I can’t control everything, past, present and future. But I can make healthy lifestyle choices that work for me. I’ll get there.

 

 

 

 

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3 comments

  1. Have you ever done any rock climbing Nadia? Either on a climbing wall or proper trad stuff on actual rock. I’m sure I’ve asked you this before but can’t remember, it’s something you might enjoy and does require a lot if focus and no end of challenges.

    1. It’s on my long list of things I want to get into. Hopefully sometime later this year. Time management for now, though. I have too many hobbies!

  2. This year I want to re-work my time and re-focus my mind so that I am less stressed and anxious about the things I love to do. That sounds like it’s easy. It really isn’t. Not for someone like me. Not for someone that gets anxious because she wants to get many things done in a single day but can’t always. Not for someone that gets stressed about travelling anywhere even though she absolutely loves travelling. Not for someone that decides to go on an adventure because she really really really wants to, but the minute it’s booked and paid for, she can’t understand why the heck she decided to do it.

    Well… Me too!

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