When I first embarked on my wellness journey, I was told that rest is critical. Friends, trainers and colleagues told me that recovery days are just as important as active days. In nearly a decade of training, all I kept hearing was how to listen to my body.
On the other hand, I was never told to listen to my mind. Despite the fact that fitness is as much mental as it is physical, it seemed almost taboo to talk about “feelings” other than physical. This led me to push my own boundaries for fear of being called weak or unmotivated. I exercised while my mind wandered and I pushed myself even when all I wanted to do was take a break. Every day I forced myself to believe that this was just “all in my head”. But it wasn’t that simple.
Mental fatigue and the taboo on depression
The undeniable truth is that mental illness is very real. In fact, the WHO estimated that more than 280 million adults experience some form of mental disorder. That includes conditions such as depression or anxiety. But despite recent medical evidence showing that mental illnesses are real, people often downplay them. In addition, people are shunned or condemned on these terms.
Mental fatigue is a common problem that people face and can even lead to various mental illnesses.
In the workplace, 54% of employees said they don’t feel safe talking about mental health because they think others will judge them. Only 15% of students felt comfortable enough to seek help at school.
In the fitness world, athletes often ignore warning signs like simple jitters or fatigue. The few times I opened up to coaches about my struggles, I got a “sweat it out” response. As if another session would just solve my problems.
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The relationship between mental health and fitness
In a way, I understand this mindset in fitness. After all, there is a lot of evidence showing that exercise is beneficial for mental health. As noted in Knowable Magazine, exercise has been proven to have the same positive effect as antidepressants. In addition, because exercise prompts the brain to release more happiness hormones such as endorphins and dopamine, the effect is almost immediate. Frankly, I have experienced these benefits time and time again. Fitness really does wonders for the body inside and out.
But this doesn’t mean that everyone who does fitness is immune to mental illness. Despite what the media and other athletes may say, you can’t just solve everything with more exercise. And you are certainly not a failure to admit this.
Top athletes feel the same way. As shared on SymptomFind, Olympian Simone Biles and world number one tennis star Naomi Osaka are two such examples who have publicly prioritized their mental health. In the past two years, both women have withdrawn from major sporting events due to mental fatigue. Personally, and for dozens of people in similar situations, it was reassuring to see two women at the top of their fields break through this unspoken barrier. Their actions emphasized the importance of listening to your mind — and that we still have a long way to go in normalizing mental health issues in fitness.
How can we reduce mental fatigue in fitness?
Let’s keep talking about it for starters. The more we sweep it under the rug, the more its negative effects can increase over time. It may not be easy, but a gentle—yet consistent—conversation will enable others to understand the struggles and needs of those with mental health issues.
Develop emotional resilience
At the same time, we must also consider others. To do this, we must avoid toxic positivity. An article on Forbes explains that toxic positivity can be gassy and demeaning. Instead of just saying “cheer up” or “don’t worry,” we should help others achieve emotional resilience. It is a more sustainable way to control mental fatigue and also have an impact on fitness. When you’ve cultivated an environment that supports managing your emotions, you and those around you can better deal with mental health hurdles.
It is in everyone’s interest to also tackle the mental side of ‘not feeling well’.
Mental health is not inferior to physical health. To succeed in one, you must also prioritize the other. Among athletes, this is especially pronounced given the mind-body connection we need.
Of course, even after we’ve had the conversations and started practicing more mindful and encouraging behaviors, there’s still more that can be done. If you’re still struggling with mental fatigue, here are more ideas you can apply.
Sometimes you have to take a step back and relax to move forward. It is just as important in athletic performance as it is in mental health.
Plan in wellness days
As athletes, we often plan our workouts meticulously, but leave more to chance when it comes to wellness activities. But these more “relaxed” activities deserve just as much priority given their holistic benefits. So, if you’re in the mood for a massage or if you’ve been hesitating about taking that staycation, do yourself a favor and commit to it. This will “force” you to take time for yourself and it will ensure that no other activities will “distract” you from the serenity.
Find a hobby outside of fitness
Even if health and fitness are your passion, it’s good to diversify your interests. This way you are less likely to burn out or be overwhelmed by one effort. Try to find activities that are more in line with your artistic or psychological side. Think pottery, painting or even puzzles. This way you stimulate more sides of yourself and you also ensure that you are not only limited to fitness. These hobbies can also provide you with much-needed mental break from your usual grind.
Also read: Burnout in Sports – 20 Ways to Detect, Overcome and Prevent It
Start an honest diary
It can be difficult to monitor your emotions and thoughts, especially in stressful situations. A workout diary can be a great way to notice impending burnout. With a journal, you can literally pinpoint the highs and lows you are experiencing. Doing this consistently can give you insight into your triggers and coping mechanisms. Over time, going through this journal can help build mental and emotional resilience.
Finally, it is in everyone’s interest to also work mentally with ‘feelings’. Mental health is not inferior to physical health. To succeed in one, you must also prioritize the other. Among athletes, this is especially pronounced given the mind-body connection we need. Today my mental health problems are not completely gone. Frankly, I don’t know if they ever will. But what I can say for sure is that when I finally got recognition and support from my peers, my overall health and my fitness journey started to look better.
Alina Oliver is an aspiring sports blogger with a passion for following those at the top of their game. She hopes her articles inspire other people to aim high. In her spare time she plays tennis.
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This post How To Beat Mental Fatigue (And Why “Feeling Off” Isn’t Only Physical) was original published at “https://theathleteblog.com/how-to-beat-mental-fatigue/”