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What The Olympics Teaches Us About Our Own Mental Health
Even though most of us will never compete in the Olympics, Olympians can teach us valuable lessons about coping with pressure and setting boundaries in our daily lives.
During the Olympics, athletes' physical and mental abilities are pushed to their limits. Think about it: Athletes get one shot every 4 years to prove they have what it takes to be the best in the world in their sport. While some Olympians shine, others crumble under the immense pressure.
In the 2020 Olympics, the pressure seems to be extra intense because winning a medal doesn’t seem to be good enough unless it’s gold. Recently, American Swimmer Katie Ledecky was publicly deemed a loser because she won the silver medal instead of the gold medal in one of her first races. Instead, she should have been celebrating for winning a medal at all during the arguably the most competitive and esteemed swim meet in the world. Similarly, Japanese Tennis Star Naomi Osaka has faced endless criticism after she lost the gold medal she was predicted to win to a tennis player from the Czech Republic. While Ms. Osaka’s presence on the Japanese team originally seemed to symbolize a more diverse and inclusive Japan, some are now questioning the athlete’s right to represent Japan because she didn’t win the gold medal.
As the pressure heats up at the Olympic Games, some athletes in Tokyo have decided to take a stand to protect their own mental wellbeing. While other athletes have famously competed through pain and emotional trauma, American Gymnast Simone Biles earned a lot of attention by withdrawing herself from the individual all-around gymnastics competition due to poor mental health. Knowing that poor mental health could lead to severe injury during her complicated routines, the gymnast showed great courage in choosing to protect her mental and physical wellbeing. Biles stood up to the extreme pressure that comes with competing at the Olympic level, acting as a role model to other athletes and to us.
Even though most of us won’t be competing in the Olympics, we still face equally valid stressors and pressure every day of our lives. With the world reopening in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are about to undergo a big transition as we return to the in-person workplace and our kids go back to school. Life is quickly getting very busy, and we have to be able to set boundaries and cope with pressure in the coming months.
What athletes like Simone Biles teaches us is that it is okay and necessary to set boundaries, even under immense pressure. In our daily lives, this may simply mean that we learn how to say “no.” Instead of agreeing to do every favor a friend asks for or promising to deliver too many important assignments at work under tight deadlines, be honest about what you can and can’t handle. You shouldn’t overwhelm yourself because you feel pressured by work or society or say “yes” to everything.
On that note, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and prioritize your mental health when you need a break. There is no shame in taking a mental health day to revitalize your mind or sitting out on a social event to give yourself time to unwind. This may also mean setting clear work and life boundaries at the office, to ensure you get the breaks you deserve during your off hours so your mind is revitalized and refreshed once you’re back on the clock.
Lastly, athletes like Katie Ledecky remind us to be proud of what we are able to accomplish. Even though she initially won a silver medal instead of the gold she was originally hoping for, Ledecky should still be proud of achieving such a high placement at the most prestigious sporting event in the world. Similarly, we may have days that don’t go exactly as planned or we are not as productive as we hoped. On these days we need to remember to be proud of what we accomplished instead of disappointed in ourselves for what we didn’t do. With reflection, you will likely see that you accomplish something valuable every day. In a later race, Katie Ledecky did swim her way to a gold medal and set a new record, just like we sometimes reach more or bigger goals at a later day when the time is right.