Watching the 2016 Rio Olympics with my family over the past week has been incredible. It’s exciting to see athletes who have trained so hard, physically and mentally, proudly represent their country in a sporting event that they have perfected in their own way from an early age. We, the fans, have the easy job of cheering for them and being able to move on after the event. The athletes will re-live the moment in their minds forever, good or bad.
We all understand the work involved to train to be physically strong, but how do you train to be mentally strong? Is there a program similar to building muscles and strengthening your core? Are they told to snap out it if they are feeling sad? How can you mentally prepare yourself to be ‘present’ and ready for the biggest sporting event in the world?
The Pressure To Be Perfect
What I have noticed watching the Olympics this year is that mental health is no longer the elephant in the room. Athletes are being open about their struggles with depression and anxiety. The pressure to be perfect. The pressure to not disappoint your country. Seriously, how do you prepare to speak to the media after you miss the podium by 0.01 seconds? It saddened me to see athletes interviewed after not making the podium and asked questions that focused on what they could have done better, that what they did was not enough. Are the athletes prepared for what’s next? How do they tame the beast in their head nagging them that they failed, and that they should’ve done better?
In recent years, Canadian Olympic athletes, Clara Hughes and Silken Laumann, opened up about their personal struggles with mental health. Silken Laumann mentions in her book, Unsinkable, that her mental health was tougher than being in an Olympic competition. Clara Hughes wrote a book, Open Heart Open Mind, and shared her story. Ms. Hughes also took the elephant in the room for a nationwide bike ride to promote mental health awareness in 2015.
I am extremely proud of the athletes. They are all winners on my podium. Let’s continue to have the conversations about mental health – daily. Those of us who live with chronic depression and anxiety, as I do, know deep down that everyday we fight the invisible competitor, we are more courageous and stronger than yesterday.
For a recent story of an Olympic athlete and her struggle with depression, please watch Allison Schmidt’s, US Olympic Athlete, share her story.