Haley Smith is a member of the Norco Factory Team and the Canadian National Team, as well as a Cam’s Kids Ambassador and mental health advocate. She finished third at the Nove Mesto World Cup race last year and was a strong candidate for Team Canada's XC squad in July before the Olympics were postponed. Last week, she shared these mental strategies on her blog as she came back from a block of training in California to self-isolation. With her permission, I've shared them below.
These are obviously very strange and scary times, and a lot of us are (understandably) feeling overwhelmed or struggling to adapt to the new circumstances we find ourselves in. While allowing ourselves to feel these feelings is super important, it is equally as important to maintain focus and take care of our minds+bodies during this. I thought it might be helpful to give you my strategies on how I’m doing this, so read on for my tips to take care of your mental state during these early stages of the COVID crisis.
But first, a pep talk:
This is not the End of Days. Yes, this period will be challenging and will push us to new levels of discomfort, but it WILL end. I find it helpful to approach this situation like a nasty set of intervals: if I think about the end of an interval set when I’m only on repeat 1, then it feels as if I will never make it. This feeling is exponentially worse if Coach doesn’t tell me how many efforts are on the plan for the day. But if I only think about the current interval I’m on… well, I can do ONE interval, can’t I? For sure. And if I keep just thinking about the single effort that I’m engaged in, eventually I will have done an entire set and the workout is over. I’m applying the same thinking to this crisis: thinking only about today - or at most, this week - and trusting that the end will eventually appear if I continue to string these discrete moments together.
Now, I know that mindset is easier talked about than realized, but the thing about challenges is that we never know what we’re capable of until we complete them. As a species, humans are so incredibly resilient, and we have a way of getting through whatever the universe presents us with. So buckle up and put your determination hat on, because we are all going to get through this.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been finding myself to be overcome by random waves of anxiety and stress during the last week. There is a plethora of advice all over the internet on how to deal with the stress of the crisis and the new circumstances of self-isolation, but here are the specific strategies I’ve been employing. I hope they help you, too!1. Create a daily To-Do list and establish a routine
Make sure there are small, achievable tasks for each day (I make my To-Do list for the following day each night before bed) in addition to bigger, multi-day ones. Try to wake up and go to sleep, eat meals, and exercise around the same time each day.2. Meditation / Breathing Exercises:
It doesn’t have to be structured or with an app, and you don’t need to have any pervious experience with meditation. And as easy as it is to procrastinate meditation, I REALLY STRONGLY suggest this one. It can be as simple as taking 10 deep, mindful breaths when you wake up and again when you go to sleep. If you want to try a guided meditation, the Headspace app is offering free recordings for “weathering the storm” during this time.3. Set a limit for media/news consumption and parameter on the time of day you’ll allow yourself to check in.
This is one of the biggest ones for me - it’s good to be informed, but checking the news too frequently isn’t helpful. It just amps you up.4. EXERCISE.
If you’re able to be outside (self-isolated obviously), then do that. If you have to be inside, then there are SO many athletes and resources sharing at-home workouts that you can do with minimal to no equipment. I can’t stress how important getting some movement in is.5. Once per day, give yourself a Reality Check:
Remind yourself of the facts of the immediate situation and acknowledge where you’re extrapolating and/or catastrophizing.6. Put your work away after normal working hours.
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should always work. Don’t check your email after 6pm. Don’t check it before breakfast, either. Set boundaries for yourself.7. Virtually connect with your family and friends.
Use FaceTime, Skype, etc. and get the social interaction that you’re missing with physical distancing. You can even use these platforms to do yoga or eat a meal together.8. Learn a new skill.
This is really mentally engaging and gives us a big dopamine hit - new skills generally yield a lot of improvement very quickly, so you get a big sense of reward. Plus it gives you something to focus on and direct your energy to. My new skill for the coming weeks is to learn to make sourdough!9. Eat as well as you can.
Nutrition is definitely correlated with mental health, and though it is arguably more challenging to eat well when we’re going to the grocery store less (or not at all) and relying more on pantry staples, it is possible. Lots of great bloggers are sharing adapted, pantry-friendly recipes (try The Minimalist Baker). *I'll have a post coming on this topic soon, as I've noticed some personal struggles with navigating the current situation as someone who has an eating disorder history*10. Plan something for the future.
Give yourself a carrot to chase - like a vacation or outdoor project. Having something to look forward to helps immensely with motivation. Make the general plan and think about how you’ll put it into action when the world returns to normal.11. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude.
When at all possible, think about the things that you CAN still do, and the life amenities that you still have available to you. Can you walk outside? Consciously be grateful for that. And so on. One exercise that I’ve been doing for the last 9 years (seriously, I have NINE YEARS OF JOURNALS FILLED WITH THIS) is writing down three positive things from each day before I go to sleep. It will help with mindset and actually changes the neural pathways in your brain to trend more in a positive/optimistic way. You CAN train your brain to be more able to see the bright side of things.12. Do your part to self-isolate/socially distance and give yourself a pat on the back for benefitting society.
Feeling like part of a team and honouring your responsibility to society as a whole gives you a big sense of accomplishment. Consciously acknowledge that you're doing the right thing and take pride in the care you're showing your fellow humans.
I’m not sure if any of those tips land with you, or if they’re unique in any way, but hopefully they at least serve as a reminder to take care of your brain right now.
You can follow Haley Smith on Instagram here