When Simone Biles, the four-time gold medallist American gymnastics Olympian, pulled herself from the competition early on in the 2021 Japan Olympics, many assumed she’d suffered an injury that would stop her from competing. But it wasn’t for a physical problem, it was for her mental health.
While feeling the weight of competing and then learning of the unexpected death of her aunt, Biles found herself with a case of the “Twisties.” She explained this problem as a disconnect between a gymnast’s mind and body, causing her to lose track of where she was in the air while performing.
“It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync. 10/10 do not recommend,” Biles wrote in an Instagram post.
You don’t have to be an Olympian to understand how mental health can affect your performance in your job and in your personal life. It can affect each one of us, whether it’s anxiety about a task we have coming up or a wave of depression that makes us not want to leave our bed.
For those days where we find ourselves with our own version of the “twisties,” here are 5 tips to focus on yourself.
REFOCUS WITH MINDFULNESS USING THE STOP METHOD
One of Community Psychiatry + MindPath Care Center’s psychiatrist’s Rashmi Parmar’s, M.D., favourite techniques to help promote mindfulness is the four-step “STOP” method.
“It is a great way to defuse stress in the moment, replenish your energy and creativity stores, gain some perspective on the problem at hand, and determine the best possible action you can take next,” Dr. Parmar says. It includes the following steps:
S– Stop or pause for a moment no matter what you’re doing.
T– Take a few deep breaths and try to bring yourself to the present moment.
O– Observe and acknowledge your inner feelings, bodily sensations as well as things going on in the outside environment around you. Make a quick attempt to understand why you might be feeling this way. Just take a note.
P– Proceed with your task after having checked in with the present moment, incorporating the knowledge you gained from observing yourself.
STAND UP AND MOVE AROUND
Lifestyle modifications, like adding in time for a walk during your lunch break or going to the gym in the mornings, have a solid body of evidence behind them helping positively affect your mental health. In one study, researchers found that aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, reduced anxiety and depression. But starting exercise can be a daunting task.
Rose Hylton, a provider from MindPath Care Centers, a Community Psychiatry Practice, writes about how you can tackle the issue of starting in , “exercise recommendations are often overwhelming. Visions of marathon runners or professional athletes can intimidate us into not getting started,” she writes. “Please understand any step you take counts and may have a greater impact on your overall health than you realize. In fact, individuals who engage in as little as one or two 75-minute sessions of exercise per week appear to have decreased risk of mortality.” Get out of your house or office and try something small first, like a walk or a YouTube yoga class for just a few minutes, to see how you like it. Then, you can adapt for future use.
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR SCREEN TIME
Spending most of the day inside because of the COVID-19 pandemic can impact your sleep, can cause vision problems, or even lead to mentalh ealth issues. In addition to you using a computer for work or school, many of us are spending a lot of our downtime scrolling through social media, texting late at night, and/or binge-watching television during the winter.
You can try to be mindful of your screen time in a number of ways! These include:
- Pay attention to your phone’s screen time app, to see when you use your phone the most or how much you’ve been using it per day
- Set timers on how long you can take a break to scroll through social media or how long you can stare at your computer throughout the workday
- Put your phone on the other side of the room when you lay down for bed, so you don’t feel the need to stare at it for too long
- Create alternative activities for yourself to do instead of reaching for your cell phone
MAKE A LIST
Sometimes, when going through a mental health issue, it can be hard to remind yourself of the tangible things that are important for you to do throughout the day. A good way to keep yourself from putting tasks aside because of stress or anxiety is to make a list of what you need to get done for a certain time period. This makes your tasks into a tangible list to cross off and holds yourself accountable.
Another great way to put your mental health and relationships first is to make a pie chart of the things that are important in your life. This helps prioritize what you think is most important for you at the time and helps you think things through without overwhelming yourself with thought.
You can start by picking four or five broad topics that are important in your life, like your relationships and your hobbies, and deciding on the percentages of time they should take up in your daily life. If you struggle with this, start with the easiest topics and work out from there.
And remember to put yourself and your mental health on the chart as well, because you are just as important as any other task in your life.
TALK TO A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
At the end of the day, it might not be as simple as you being able to “fix” yourself and your mental health on your own. And that’s okay, because there are people who devote their lives to working people through their issues and helping them live happier, more fulfilling lives. If your anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue becomes excessive and too much to manage, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. Talking with a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist who can treat the underlying issue may help you feel better.