Athletes in general are tough. We don’t like to show weakness. Our non-athlete social circles think we are crazy and awe-inspiring. But it’s okay to break, and it’s okay to ask for help. I recently found myself mentally weighed down with a lot of personal issues, and didn’t feel I could talk about them or I would seem weak. My tendency is to keep it inside and figure it out on my own. Recently, I admitted on social media that I was struggling, and asked for coping strategies. What I got instead was an outpouring of love that showed me it was okay to be vulnerable.
Source: Bev Childress
Despite feeling loved by friends and acquaintances, I was still underwater with my issues and thoughts. I needed to snap out of it before it took over and sent me to a very dark place. I needed to find some clarity, and find the best way to re-center myself emotionally. I tried three methods, and today I’ll share them with you, in the hope that someone who is similarly struggling may find them useful. You can try all three, but you may find just one of them the most appealing, based on your personality or how you are currently feeling.
Part 1: The Tough Cookie Workout
This workout is just my style. I love an ass kicking. No music allowed for this one. You’ll be working too hard anyway.
- 10min warmup including easy run, dynamic active stretching, and some pickups
- 20 x 100m all out sprints
- The rest interval is the walk back to the starting line
- 5min easy jog and static stretching
Without music as a distraction, I felt trapped in my thoughts and struggled to stay on task. By the seventh round, I wanted to quit, but I convinced myself to at least finish at 10 rounds. On the 11th round, I accepted I couldn’t cure my mom’s cancer. By round 15, I acknowledged that it wasn’t my loss that she didn’t want to include me or my kids in her life all these years; it was hers. By round 20, it was more of a cry fest then a sprint. I couldn’t keep the emotions in anymore. I had pushed myself past my mental barriers.
The simple brutality of this workout helped me overcome the guilt of my reactions, and the feelings of being inadequate. I released all of those and more. I had fresh insight on other areas as well, like my active yet dismal dating life. While all those sprints left me broken mentally, emotionally and physically, I left with a sense of freedom and peace. I gave forgiveness to all those that hurt me, occupied my mind, distracted me, and gave me undue stress.
This may not be way to cope for you, and that is okay. I have two other ideas I tried, if sprints aren’t your thing.
Part 2: Channeling the Inner Swami
The analogy of life being like a roller coaster is fitting. But how we handle those ups and downs makes all the difference. Everyone knows that alcohol is not the answer, even though we all check to make sure. After the physical and emotional release of my sprint beatdown, I decided to take a more spiritual approach with less physical demands.
My background includes being a yoga instructor for almost 15 years. I teach a clinical type of yoga, using it to really stretch out and stay flexible. But this time, I would go deeper into my yoga practice and include some meditation.
The spiritual connection I sought required somewhere quiet, where I would feel safe and happy. For me, it’s the outdoors. There are many places I love, but only one would do for this exercise. Picture this: an easy hike through a beautiful forest to a stream of cool, clear water. You can see the water flow around and over the rocks, weaving its way through the landscape of trees, and reflecting the blue sky and fluffy white clouds. There is a small, wooden foot bridge spanning across it with a railing on one side. I sat on that bridge, back resting on the rail, and soaked up the sun while watching the water flow towards and underneath me.
The part of yoga that I don’t practice often is the meditation. Everyone who knows me will tell you that I am too wired to sit still and be mindful. But this is what I needed to do, and I want you to try it. I will guide you through what I did. Just sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe slowly through your nose. Breathing is the focus, but the sound of the moving water helped me relax.
- Imagine your breathing as the exchange of energy.
- The inhale is bright, golden light energy, like the sun. When you breathe it in, it fills you with golden light. It relaxes your muscles, makes you feel peaceful, and quiets your mind.
- The exhale is the release of bad energy. It’s dark and draining. Every time you exhale, you can feel it leaving your body, almost watching it being drawn out and expelled through your nose.
- Inhale the warm, bright, energizing light; let it fill your body, getting into every nook and cranny, chasing away the stale, stressed, negative energy. Feel its power replenishing your soul.
- Exhale the darkness, the stress, and feel the weight of it leaving your body as you become heavy with relaxation. Each exhale brings you closer to tranquility and harmony.
- Inhale the beauty of the energy. Let it smooth your worries from the inside; let it fuel your quest for happiness and calmness; let it fill you to ward off the dark energy. Use its power to keep you grounded and mindful.
Repeat this process until you feel relaxed. Once I got there, I just let the sun shine on my face and listened to the water with my eyes still closed. I didn’t try to solve any problems, but rather made peace with the things that were beyond my control. I looked for perspective on how to be happy moving forward, and was thankful for all the great things in my life.
Although I wasn’t broken and crying like the last workout, I had an pleasant calm come over me. The weight of the world was off my shoulders. I sat a bit longer, watching the water, before heading home, ready to tackle what could come.
I dare you to try this quiet, subtle approach for mental clarity. I want to hear if how it went for you. Be sure to take a second to thank yourself. Thank your body for its hard work, your mind for its focus, and your spirit for its presence.
Part 3: Pick It Up and Put It Down
Stepping out of our own head can be one of our greatest challenges. My first method broke me and reduced me to a blubbering, sweaty puddle. The second was a spiritual connection, in which I found some peace and freedom from the weight of my issues. Now I wanted to tackle the more physical, primal side of it. I also hoped to achieve some personal physical growth.
Anyone who lifts weights can tell you that it’s excellent therapy. The rush of endorphins, the muscle pump, and the gains can be addicting. For those that lift heavy weights consistently, it can also be frustrating. Trying to break through a plateau can be exhausting.
My head can be like an attic full of mice, so I chose to do some heavy deadlifts to try and silence the noise. Deadlifts demand a lot from your mind and body, and for me, are the most rewarding to complete. They feed the need to be strong and make you feel like a badass, while blowing out everything else in your head besides the lift.
As the weight gets super heavy, you will probably need to drop the bar, so you’ll need access to a gym with bumper (rubber) plates. Dropping a heavy barbell that you just picked up off the floor is all part of the therapy.
I can type out the best way to deadlift with great form but it’s better to visually see the cues.
Here’s the workout:
- Warm up with some light cardio, and do your mobility to get loose. Include some very light weights in movements like good mornings.
- Start your deadlifts at about 50% of your 1RM. If you don’t know what that is, then start as light as possible and then add 5-10 lbs at a time. Be sure your form is perfect before you add more weight!
- Perform reps until your form starts to falter, then stop. Increase the weight on the bar and repeat.
- When it starts to get good and heavy, drop reps to 1 or 2 at a time.
- This is where it gets spicy. When you are near your 1RM, you’ll know it from how you feel. Do you have one more rep? One more pound? If you do, go for it!
If you end up with a new max deadlift, congratulations! Being successful makes you feel a strength you haven’t had lately. I had one of those moments in this workout, like I had put on my Superman cape and was ready to take on the world. The act of pulling the heaviest weight you have ever pulled off the floor is draining, in a good way. Every muscle in your body has to work to lift it.
You might have to consciously think about pulling harder, or you might not be thinking at all. There is a rare occasion where you start pulling and it gets really, really hard to do, and you start to doubt yourself. Finishing that lift is the most empowering action out there. It quiets your doubts, and teaches you the success of overcoming negative thoughts.
That moment, for me, is when I felt the doubts of my overall strength wash away. I could handle everything my life was throwing at me. There was a sense of pride, and even a smile. Not everyone will get it, but who cares? They’re your battles; conquer them in your own way.
If not, the workout will still have done its job. Failing at doing better than you have before will upset you. This will either make you cry out all the stress, or make you so mad that you forget all the other worries. Sometimes that means more crying. I am one of those.
Whichever way you chose to help free you from the mental prison, do it in a healthy way. No one can take care of you but you. You can’t do any good for anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Most of all, don’t ever be afraid to reach out for help. I am always here to listen.