Simone Biles’ example: Put mental health first

July 29, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

What are the signs someone needs a mental health break?

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles hit her emotional breaking point at the Tokyo Olympic games, withdrawing from the women’s team final and the individual all-around competition after realizing her “mental’s not there.”

Physically, she feels fine, she said. Mentally, not as fine.

"We had a workout this morning, it went OK,” Biles said at a news conference after announcing her decision to withdraw. “And then just that five-and-a-half hour wait or something, I was just like shaking, could barely nap. I've just never felt like this going into a competition before.

"Warmup in the back went a little bit better. But then once I came out here, I was like no, mental's not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,” Biles said.

About two months earlier, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after she was fined for declining to take part in a media conference after a match.

“The truth is I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” Osaka wrote. “Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I want to apologize to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.”

Both women made very public decisions to back out of huge career opportunities in order to protect their mental health. So, what does this mean for the non-athletes of the world, who can also face intense pressure to perform and can get just as stressed out?

It means mental health matters. We all need to make time to focus on it.

Because good mental health doesn’t just happen. It needs attention and care just like your physical health.

It’s easy to get bogged down by the stress of daily life, but long-term stress can weaken your immune system and lead to physical health problems or make existing problems worse.

These signs may mean you’re overdue for a mental break:

  • You’re easily agitated.
  • You’re having trouble concentrating.
  • You’re forgetful.
  • You’re always tired but you can’t sleep.
  • You’re overly emotional.
  • You’re sick all the time.
  • You’re annoyed by others.
  • You’re not having fun anymore.

There’s nothing weak about focusing on your emotional well-being. When you feel like you’ve reached a breaking point — and, importantly, before you reach that point — there are things you can do to feel better, including:

  1. Make yourself the priority. You don’t have to take care of everyone and everything else before you take care of yourself.
  2. Take a social media break.
  3. Practice deep breathing or mindful meditation.
  4. Talk it out with a close friend or therapist.
  5. Try acupuncture to relax and de-stress.
  6. Try yoga—it can help you relax and even benefit your heart.
  7. Get a massage or facial.
  8. Go for a walk in nature, it can improve your health.
  9. Exercise at the gym or at home.

Good mental health is as vital to wellness as good physical health. Sitting out of a high-stakes situation could be better for you in the long run.

“I say put mental health first. Because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to,” Biles said. “So it's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety even after taking a break, you may need some extra support. Talk to your doctor about seeking help from a professional.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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