I cry a lot, actually. I can’t help it. I’m an emotional person and I have no shame in expressing that emotion. If I don’t, I get stuck in this numb, useless state where I find myself reading a textbook and absorbing NOTHING, or mindlessly tapping through Instagram stories without even seeing them. So I accept the meltdowns as part of the process of feeling better.
But recently, I have had days where I have been stuck in a state of malaise and melancholy that is beyond what curling into a ball and crying can relieve. I believe these have become very familiar emotions for a lot of people during this pandemic. Unfortunately, this world keeps on turning. Training, work and school don’t wait for us to come out of that state.
Sh*t happens to everyone. Nobody is immune to heartbreak, grief or trauma. Unless you come from a long line of vampires, at some point in your life someone you love will die or leave (well, I guess vampires leave too, according to my reliable source, Twilight.) Those are just the facts of life. And it sucks.
(PS: If you are a vampire, shoot me a DM cuz that's really cool!)
When I was 14, my coach at the time committed suicide. My aunt and dog passed away. My appendix burst and went a week undiagnosed, in which time I ended up losing over 25lbs and could no longer hold myself up. After I was released from hospital, throwing myself into my school and training was the only thing that kept me functioning. I was over-the-top busy, stressed out, and soothing with self-harming habits.
That was the only way I knew how to cope at the time.
Since, I have been on a journey to discover healthy coping mechanisms that work for me, and a lot of these strategies actually have research backing up why they make someone feel better. If I didn’t implement these coping mechanisms in my daily life, I couldn’t imagine how many more days of malaise and melancholy I would be experiencing. Thanks largely to these strategies, I have kept training, finished a university course and started a new part-time job. Especially right now, in the middle of a pandemic, with so much uncertainty as we head towards a “new normal” my hope in sharing this is that maybe someone will resonate with one of these strategies and find it useful too:
1. Waking up at the same time everyday (my alarm is set to go off between 7am and 7:30am daily). Not allowing myself to sleep in avoids feelings of guilt or laziness. Plus, research shows that waking up at the same time everyday helps your body’s circadian rhythm, ability to fall asleep at night and productivity/energy levels during the day.
2. Exposure to light in the morning and darkness at night. Working with my body’s circadian rhythm and honouring the natural cycle of the day helps my sleep quality, wakefulness during the day and exposure to light first thing in the morning has been linked to reduced stress and depression throughout the day. So throw those curtains open, maybe do some gentle yoga or some kind of movement and get ready to crush the day ahead!
3. No phone until after breakfast (usually 1 hour for me after I have woken up). Ain’t nobody needs the anxiety of the first thing you see in the morning is that person you follow on Instagram doing their 5am core circuit! Take care of yourself first. Your happiness comes before anybody else’s and make that first hour or so of the day yours. If you find this challenging, I would try starting with not touching your phone for the first 10 minutes. Then try 15. Then 20. I promise you, you will be in a better mindset and mood to face whatever your phone and the day is about to throw at you.
4. Find something creative to do each day. For me, this has been working on these blogs. I set a timer for 15 minutes, put on a chill playlist and just write whatever comes to mind. I be sure to not exceed the 15 minutes, because I could easily get lost in it and end up posting a 20 page blog that no one will read. I find it’s a nice gentle way to get me into the studying or work mindset in the morning, or a break from all of that during the day. Other suggestions could be reading, music, baking, dancing… the possibilities are endless. Bottomline, do something that makes you happy.
5. If you aren’t an athlete and on a strict training regime,doing some sort of exercise everyday is an absolute game changer. Exercise is another magical medicine that’s proven to reduce stress and anxiety, increase concentration, improve sleep and, well, it’s one of the ultimate answers to leading a healthy lifestyle! Even if I’m training, I try to go for a quick walk, or do some gentle yoga every 3 hours or so when studying or working.
6. Listen to your body. If I’m tired from training or had a bad sleep, I have to consciously be more gentle on myself. You would be shocked how quickly I can spiral down a rabbit hole of “what’s wrong with me?” or “I’m so bad at being productive” or “I just can’t.” Positive self-talk is non-existent in these instances. Therefore it’s crucial I recognize this and either go take a quick nap, or lower my expectations for the day. Beating yourself up at about sh*t isn’t going to get you anything but a panic attack, so just take a deep breath and listen to and honour where your body and mind are at in that moment.
There are endless strategies for regulating your emotions and coping with sadness, trauma or grief, and what works will be different for everybody. Whether you’re training and competing, studying, or working, it’s essential that we all have healthy coping mechanisms, but also be sure to surround ourselves with the right people for when we are beyond helping ourselves. I am a very open person and very comfortable with the choices I have made and sharing my experiences. When people in my life have died, when I’ve had a bad crash, when I go through a breakup or don’t get selected for a race, I reach out. Whether it’s booking in with a psychologist or phoning a friend at midnight in tears, I think you’ll be surprised how eager many people are to listen and help.
"It is what it is. Isn't that how these things always go? They are what they are. We just get to cope."