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We care for our physical health far more than our mental health

Updated: May 3

Ever had an ice bath? Not much fun, is it? What about following up that ice bath with acupuncture and then a massage so intense that tears squeeze out of your eyes, pressed into the physio treatment table?

It all comes under the heading ‘Recovery’. Enabling your body to recover from physical exertion can feel as hard as the exertion itself. But do we give the same thought to mental recovery?

The unique thing about sport is that we generally face our physically toughest and mentally toughest periods at different times. Training peaks happened, then you’d taper down the volume over a few weeks into a competition or a selection period, to get the supercompensation response that is a principle of sports training.

The weeks leading into and during major championships were when the physical load was at its lowest but the mental and emotional stress was at its highest. You can identify peaks of physical load, followed by peaks of mental load, but they didn’t happen at the same time.

Which means that in sport, we can track the effects of training hard and being extremely tired; and compare it to the impact of being under a high degree of pressure.

As an elite rower, I’d nurture my body through the toughest periods of training. When we were facing our hardest periods – three long and arduous sessions every day for weeks on end – I’d make sure I was in that ice bath every day. Then I’d be on the physio bed, getting massages and needles. I’d be sure to consume as many high-quality calories as I needed (plus some low-quality ones…), as well as extra

fluid, daytime naps, compression leggings to help with blood flow to tired muscles, stretching and injury prevention. Downtime would involve lying down and watching DVDs. It was exhausting, but manageable.

It was when the emotional stress arrived that I felt out of control. It was during the World Championship week that I would find myself unable to sleep, suffering from mouth ulcers, spots, and feeling lethargic and nauseous.

Stress will destroy you more than any amount of hard physical work. But do we look after ourselves mentally?

Are we doing the equivalent of ice baths, massages, nutrition, sleep, to keep ourselves in a good place emotionally? Are we releasing stress, watching for red flags, talking to others?

If you broke your leg, you’d follow a strict rehab regime to heal it. Focus on your mental wellbeing in the same way. We love James Clear’s Atomic Habits in this respect. What are your habits to recover your mind?


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