Brain Sprains: Mental Health Heading into 2021
I think by now we can all agree that 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges and hardships. As the year draws to a close, it is important to take a moment to reflect on, and acknowledge, the psychological and emotional stress and trauma that we may have endured. I am by no means an expert, but in my own dealings with mental health wellness I have learned that trying to bury things and bottle up hard feelings does not lead to a happy Grayson.
As an athlete, it is tempting to lean on my sport as a sort of mental crutch when it comes to dealing with tough emotions. Running myself into the ground to numb the pain is certainly an option, but is it really the best path forward? The miles can become an addiction and a compulsion all at once that I can use to drown out the noise, but is avoidance the answer? I never have, and never will, say that running is my therapy. My therapy consists of ACTUAL therapy with a professional, sometimes medication, meditation, and gratitude, amongst other tools that I use to fill my mental health toolbox. (A great article by Zoe Rom expanding on this can be found HERE!).
It has been really encouraging to see other athletes really stepping up this year to highlight the importance of mental health, not just in sport, but as a part of life. As a part of the human experience. Last week, Alexi Pappas came out with a great piece in the New York Times (HERE!) uncovering how she faced depression and suicidal thoughts after achieving her life goal of becoming an Olympian. It is inspiring and so important that we keep this conversation going to de-stigmatize mental health, medication, and therapy even for the most successful among us. As Pappas says in her video, the brain is a part of the body too and we must treat it as such.
“Brain sprains”: they may sound funny and be a great rhyme, but I have discovered that I am very predisposed to these mental injuries. It seems that I burnout and experience mental fatigue much quicker than I experience any type of physical fatigue or injury. I used to think that this would mean the end of my running career, and on bad days it still does feel like the end of the world. However, I have discovered that I can navigate through these brain sprains by treating them as if they were physical injuries. Working with a therapist, taking time off of running for mental reasons (even if my body is feeling good), medication, meditation, gratitude, and grounding are all techniques that I rely on to rehab my brain when I feel that it has been sprained.
The majority of 2020 has felt like one massive brain sprain to me and it has taken MANY months to navigate the feelings of burnout and loss of motivation. I can’t even begin to tally up how many existential crises I have had this year alone. For a large part of the last few months, running had lost its magic for me. I found myself questioning what I was doing and if it was even worth it? Should I give up and go find a new job that contributes more to the world in a more meaningful way? I was feeling unfulfilled and as a result, I was questioning the meaning of everything in my life. Unfortunately, according to a study on elite athletes by Megan Roche and her team at Stanford University, I am not alone. The study utilized surveys along with data from Strava to find that levels of anxiety and depression were skyrocketing in elite athletes in 2020 (read about it HERE!). The good news? If you too have been feeling a brain sprain this year, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
In an effort to help all of us heal our 2020 brain sprains, and as a way to contribute to the continued de-stigmatization of mental health, I have decided to make mental health a focus of my 2021 Training Logs + Planners. At the beginning of each month, you will find a journaling prompt that is meant to encourage self-reflection, gratitude, and/or mindfulness. The habit trackers each month are also a great way to build in self-care routines and healthy and sustainable habits. Additionally, each week includes inspirational quotes and gives you the chance to set your weekly “Intention”. The weekly intention is meant to be a practice that you intend to keep throughout the week. Oftentimes my weekly intention is to stay mindful and present or to focus on self-care and recovery. With these additions to my Training Logs + Planners, it is my hope that I can help guide us into 2021 feeling more supported and cared for mentally. I want you to know that if you have a brain sprain from 2020 that it is okay, I do too! Let’s take a minute to sit down, be honest with ourselves, accept our feelings without judgement, and move into 2021 with a renewed sense of hope and motivation. We can do this!