There is a multi-billion-dollar industry dedicated to physical fitness. You can find all colors and flavors of powders and shakes on the market today, crazy fad diets, and throw a coin and you’re likely to hit one of the millions of fitness influencers on social media claiming to have discovered some secret to make you ‘faster’ or ‘better’ in some way. Anyone who’s ever had to push through a tough moment in a race or run knows that this sport can be as much mental as it is physical.
In endurance circles, we’re slightly more comfortable talking about the mental aspect of sport. Being “mentally tough” and not “getting in your head” are tossed around by coaches, teammates and even ourselves. So why isn’t there a multi-billion-dollar industry or focus on mental health? Why are we not giving as much attention and time to our mental health as we do in training our physical bodies for peak performance? Why isn’t therapy or meditation as popular a practice as foam rolling?
As a professional athlete, my experiences with running and endurance events of all kinds has led me to invest in my mental well-being as much, if not more than my physical health. In the past, I have struggled with eating disorders, anxiety and depression, and have found healing in learning to be open about the challenges I’ve overcome, and the challenges I’m still working through today.
While physical activity is an important part of mental health, it should not be your only coping method. It’s all to easy to slip into dependence on exercise as your only means of coping with tough feelings. if it is the only way you have for managing mental stress. Personally, I’ve benefitted from medications, therapists and meditation to help me keep my life (relatively) on track. There’s no one-size-fits-all mental health solution. What’s important is that you seek out what works for you, and ask for help along the way.
Even then I still experience some days of extreme malaise where all I want to do is stare at the ceiling and days where I am so full of anxious energy that I just want to keep running until my legs won’t work anymore. Healing is a perfectly imperfect process. Embrace the speedbumps along the way. As somewhat of a pro for whom it is not their first rodeo, I just want you to know this: it is going to be okay.
The pandemic has profoundly affected the mental health of everyone. Those with a long history of mental health struggles have faced the opening of new wounds and a weighty test of our abilities to cope. You may be in eating disorder recovery and now are being put to the ultimate test of not falling into old habits amongst the chaos that we now know as grocery shopping and eating out. You may have overcome social anxiety only to be forced to be alone for the last eight weeks with your old fears knocking at your door. There are so many ways in which we are being tested right now it would be impossible for me to name them all but whatever you are going through — I see you.
Maybe you haven’t experienced mental health struggles before, then along comes a global pandemic, and it’s everyone’s first rodeo. With the cancellation of huge life events like weddings, graduations, senior sports seasons, lonely births and deaths, it’s no wonder that you are feeling things you have never felt before. This is your first global pandemic, and it shows! It’s okay to not feel like yourself right now.
Whatever you’re feeling, if it’s a mixture of grief, fear, anxiety, relief or joy, it’s okay. If we can all just start to talk a little bit more and normalize the idea that not always feeling ‘normal’ or ‘happy’ is okay we will be all the better for it.
Let’s treat our mental health as seriously as our physical health when it comes to not only training to be great athletes, but when we are training to be good humans too.
Mental health has its ups and downs and some days can be more of a struggle than others and that’s okay. Its all part of the process. Whether this is your 100th rodeo or the first time you’ve thought seriously about your mental health, I want you to know that it’s okay. Just like with the pandemic; we are in this together.
Grayson Murphy is a professional runner for Saucony, a part-time engineer, and loves just about anything that involves playing outside.