How Elite Athletes Are Changing the Way We Think About Mental Health

If the 2021 Olympics taught us anything, it’s that prioritizing your mental well-being should always come first. With Simone Biles (legendary gymnast and the GOAT— greatest of all time) opting out of five of the six finals at the Tokyo Olympics, her brave decision to put her mental health first reshapes how we see mental health as an integral part of our overall health. 

For Simone, such heavy pressure and spotlight took a toll on her mental health. Rather than pushing through her doubts and the dangerous twisties, which is a term for a mental block that can cause a gymnast to lose their sense of direction and thus the ability to land safely, she decided to put her safety first. Simone’s decision sparked game-changing conversations throughout social media, with support from both the public and many athletes for prioritizing her mental health. With the Olympics taking place in the midst of a global pandemic that has undeniably made an impact on mental health everywhere, Simone’s decision at such a highly competitive level and in such a global spotlight creates opportunities for a global audience to understand the importance of putting one’s mental well-being first.

This isn’t the first time elite athletes have spoken out about their mental health struggles. Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, revealing to the public that she had been struggling with depression and anxiety, further aggravated by the press requirements for professional athletes. Her transparency was met with praise from other athletes, Michael Phelps among them, who also struggled with mental health and identity after his retirement from swimming.

Like Simone, these elite athletes remind and teach us that it’s important to recognize our mental states especially in the face of burnout, stress, and symptoms of deteriorating mental health so that we can properly address them rather than pushing through. While we don’t share the same hurdles as Simone and may not necessarily be at risk of injury from a dangerous somersault, it’s just as important for us to recognize our limits. Taking a step back for us can mean spending time with loved ones or simply journaling. 

If like Simone, you’re feeling signs of burnout and stress, journaling can strengthen not only your emotional well-being but many facets of your life, including your relationships and self-esteem. In light of Simone’s inspirational decision, below are some research-backed journaling exercises to help you prioritize your mental well-being:

For When You Feel Inadequacy…

During times of stress and overwhelm, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up for not being able to accomplish to the level of our expectations. But harsh self-critique can lead to more stress and overwhelming feelings. In such times, self-kindness and mindfulness can actually reduce stress and increase happiness. With a “Self-Compassionate Letter” exercise where you are prompted to work through a topic you feel insecure about, you can resolve feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or stress as it relates to your relationships, career, behavior, or any other facet of your life.

For When You Feel Overwhelming Pressure…

While we don’t feel pressure on a global scale like Simone and other elite athletes, overwhelming pressure in our daily lives also has the power to create anxiety and deep emotional turmoil. During these stressful times, writing about the situation can help us gain agency while empowering us to take healthy steps to get through our emotional hurdles. An “Expressive Writing” exercise allows us to release any negative feelings and write freely about situations that are taking up space in our minds so that we can improve our performance in work, home, etc. while softening feelings of pressure.

For When You Feel Burnout…

Burnout is becoming increasingly common as people over-stretch themselves in work and life. It has only become more widespread as the pandemic blurs work-life boundaries. When you take on more than you can handle for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to mental and physical exhaustion and the development of unhealthy habits. Instead of always being on the go or being reactive, an “Affirm Your Values” exercise can help you slow down, destress, and make healthier choices rather than damaging ones. Whether it’s navigating a career change or eating a healthy diet., taking time to affirm and realign with your values can help you make choices that are sustainable in the long run.

Just like elite athletes, we need to take the time to check in with our emotional well-being and know when to draw the line when we’re at our limits. EmoteWell helps you check in with your emotional state and work through any issues that you may have swept under the rug. If you’re ready to follow Simone’s lead and take charge of your own well-being, EmoteWell offers all of the easy and effective exercises mentioned above plus more.