Will More Athletes Retire Early To Protect Their Mental Health?

As someone who is super into football, it was a shock to hear that quarterback Andrew Luck retired early at age 29. After 7 years as a pro player, Luck said he was worn down by pain, injuries, rehab, and setbacks.

Andrew Luck isn’t alone. Many athletes retired early in different fields. From Brandon Roy in basketball, who retired at 29 after persistent knee issues, to Bjorn Borg in tennis, who retired at 26 due to mental burnout.

Professional athletes endure a lot of injuries. Recovering from injuries takes time, even when you have the best medical doctors at your time. There are things that money just can’t buy. The pressure to play again before the injury is feeling healed increases the risk for re-injury.

Every injury takes it’s toll, mentally and physically. Knowing that this injury might be the one you won’t be able to recover from, that it can have a permanent effect on your body. Fearing that the next injury will set you back further or even leave you disabled, unable to take care of your family and yourself. Add to that the fear and anxiety about losing their job – their source of income. When you make a living off your body, the pressure of keeping it safe is big.

Furthermore, the injuries they endure don’t just get in the way of playing sports – they get in the way of life. One of Luck’s injuries was a kidney laceration – which could cause leaking of urine into the abdominal cavity.

The reasons these pro athletes cite for their early retirement isn’t just physical. The injuries alone aren’t enough to make someone want to retire, to walk away from playing a sport they love while getting paid for it. It’s the burnout that comes with them and with being a professional athlete in general. This points to a general trend of different priorities. It is becoming less acceptable to sacrifice one’s mental, emotional and physical health for fame and material wealth. This is a monumental step for mental health awareness.

To take such a major decision – to step away from millions of dollars in potential earnings, as well as the security of a job that one knows he is good at and valued for – isn’t easy. It sends out a clear message, and it starts a dialogue about mental health and self-care.

Mental health awareness isn’t just for people who are already struggling with mental health disorders – it’s for everybody. Just like you don’t have to be diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes to start eating healthier. The same goes for mental and emotional wellbeing.

Having professional athletes, celebrities and other people who are in the spotlight talk about mental health and self-care is huge. It starts a conversation and has an effect on all of society.

Sure, most people are not going to be able to retire at 30 – not by a long shot. But we can look at the choices we make in our everyday lives and how they impact our mental health. From choosing a job that offers less pay but maybe more satisfaction, to how we are spending our free time. It’s a reminder that we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. It’s our own responsibility to talk to our loved ones about our needs, boundaries, and difficulties.

I believe that as this conversation expands, we will see more professional athletes choose to retire early. Andrew Luck and others are a positive example and show that it’s possible to thrive out of the limelight. Taking responsibility for his mental health shows others that it can be done. I’m sure that many other athletes are burning out from the stress but are keeping quiet about it.

Dealing with a lot of media attention – many of which could be negative – might scare off several athletes who might be thinking of retiring. Inevitably though, the media will show less interest as more athletes make the choice. What is shocking the first few dozen times will eventually become accepted, and perhaps even applauded.

In addition, as we live in an era of technology, social media, and “side gigs”, many athletes no longer have to rely on sports as their sole income. It is easier than ever for a retired athlete to dip their feet into another industry and try their hand at something else.

Check out my video in which I discuss Andrew Luck’s early retirement and self-care.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended or recommended for patients or other lay persons or as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Patients must always consult a qualified health care professional regarding their diagnosis and treatment. Mental health conditions are complex, people differ widely in their conditions and responses, and interactions with other conditions and treatments are best evaluated by a physical examination and consultation with a qualified clinician.


How To Use Exercise To Boost Your Mental Health

Many people I know say they don’t have time to exercise. Between work, school, commute, family, and the basic errands of life such as keeping your house clean, eating and going to the bank… It can be really hard to know when to fit exercise in. If you feel like you’re not getting enough sleep, waking up early to go for a run seems absurd. So many people are so tired when they get home from work that all they feel they can do is have dinner, relax for a bit and go to bed. Weekends are there to catch up with sleep, friends, and housework. If you’re lucky you can fit in a road trip or some fun activity. Gym? Laughable.

It’s a real shame because working out consistently can have a tremendous effect on your health – both physical and mental/emotional. The ways in which exercise benefits our physical body is a lot more obvious – we strengthen our muscles, our heart, our lungs. Exercise keeps our weight balanced, and helps protect us from diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Stronger muscles take longer to deteriorate, so fitter people often experience fewer pains and aches as they age.

The benefit to our emotional and mental state is a lot more difficult to see. Here are some ways exercise boosts your mental health.

  1. Healthy body, healthy mind. We can’t separate our physical and mental health. When we are healthy – that includes exercising and eating right – our bodies’ systems are working in sync. That means are stress hormones are more balanced, our sleep is deeper, and our digestion is working better. On the other hand, when we’re stressed, we’re more likely to get less sleep, which in turn can lead to an impairment in our immune system, making us more prone to viruses and disease. We have to strike a delicate balance – in order to take care of our minds, we need to take care of our bodies, and the other way around.
  2. The post-exercise boost. Many people experience what is called a “runner’s high” – a short-term feeling of wellbeing and even euphoria, for several hours after a workout. Endorphins are suspected to be behind this, with other neurotransmitters that are linked to happiness having their part – specifically dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
  3. Natural dopamine balance. Our body releases dopamine during pleasurable activities or activities that our brain wants to reinforce – activities thatare perceived to be good for our survival, such as eating and sex. Today, we get most of our dopamine from things like video games, social media – things that are immediate and that are not that difficult to achieve. When we see that someone has hit “like” on a picture we posted, the reward centers in our brains light up.
  4. Self-esteem. There’s something to be said for how good we feel when we set and achieve goals – not just the physical dopamine boost but how it makes us look at ourselves. Knowing that we can stick with something even when it’s not difficult and that we can choose things for ourselves that might not be pleasurable at the moment but that is good for us in the long run, are benchmarks of self-love. As we become adults (and it really is a lifelong process) one of the most important things we need to learn is how to parent ourselves. Just as a parent needs to make sure their child showers, goes to school or eats nutritious food even if the child does not always want to, so too do we need to learn to fill that role for ourselves. Tap yourself on the shoulder after an intense workout to remind yourself that you are proud of yourself for doing whatever it takes to keep you happy and healthy. Seeing the physical body change can help boost self-esteem even more. Just remember, that while losing weight or gaining muscle can e great, to not make it your only goal.

So now you know some of the benefits and you might be asking yourself, how to bring exercise into your life to boost your mental health? Here are some tips.

  1. Make time for it. It may seem obvious, but some people keep waiting for motivation to work out and life just passes by. You go to work, thinking you’ll exercise after, but then a friend asks for help with something, and after that, there are the dishes… Marking a clear time in our calendar when you are going to work out helps set the intention and ensure you will actually do it.
  2. Try different things. There might be a good reason all your friends are raving about Crossfit. Give it a shot. If you’re not feeling it, though, don’t fret. There are endless forms of exercise. Many gyms offer several types of classes – pilates, kickboxing, yoga, TRX… Go wild, trying them all until you find something that works for you.
  3. Make plans with a friend. Many people find it easier to go through with commitments we make to other people than ones we make to ourselves. If you know your friend is waiting for you at 7 to go for a run, you’re less likely to bail than if you knew you’d only be letting yourself down. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in this – it’s your health!
  4. Choose consistency over exhaustion. A mistake a lot of people make is going to the gym once every few weeks, and then going super hard when they do. While it often comes from a place of wanting to “make up” for not going more regularly, it ends up doing more harm. If your experience of going to the gym will be mainly negative, you’re less likely to go again. It’s better to pace yourself and be more gentle with your body while working on building a regular exercise routine. 

Come exercise with me in this video. I took a day off school and work to go to the gym, to set an intention to be dedicated to getting back to health.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended or recommended for patients or other lay persons or as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Patients must always consult a qualified health care professional regarding their diagnosis and treatment. Mental health conditions are complex, people differ widely in their conditions and responses, and interactions with other conditions and treatments are best evaluated by a physical examination and consultation with a qualified clinician.


How To Overcome The Mental Health Stigma & Thrive

Lazy, crazy, or scary? There’s no limit to the stigma surrounding mental health.

From believing that people with mental health issues are dangerous, to thinking it to be a simple choice of “just don’t worry and relax”. Many people fail to understand the long list of difficulties that arise from mental health struggles. A lot of fear, shame, and ignorance are involved when talking about mental health.

Shame resulting from mental health stigma can make people feel even more alone with what they are dealing with. As if that wasn’t enough, being aware of how they are labeled can prevent people from seeking help and finding relief sooner.

Since so many people are afraid to talk about their mental health, it’s quite common to get information about mental and emotional disorders from TV shows and movies. Unfortunately, these portrayals aren’t always the most nuanced or sensitive. It’s not uncommon to find a character whose serial killing spree is “explained” by their Dissociative Identity Disorder as a twist, or a character with PTSD or Personality Disorder being shown as abusive with no redeeming qualities. While the past few years have given us some quality shows that discuss mental health in a more positive way, things still aren’t perfect. Representation matters. If all we see as examples for depression (for one) are white teenage girls who cut themselves, it influences the way we view the disorder. Some people may even feel that if they don’t follow the same mold, it’s unlikely that they are experiencing depression at all.

Mental health stigma dictates how we talk about it. Since the conversation is lacking, people who have little knowledge about mental health often have no idea how to support their friends and family. For someone dealing with addiction or anxiety, it’s difficult to reach out for support and feel like talking to a wall. When you share your struggle, the last thing want to hear is “it sounds like you’re just lazy” or “cheer up, things aren’t so bad.”

It’s true that we can’t change the whole world. However, there are things you can do to thrive in your personal life when dealing with mental health issues.

  • Don’t hide your struggles. The more we keep something hidden, the more we tend to feel shame surrounding it. When something is hard to talk about, that’s often a sign that it needs talking about! You’d be surprised at the relief you might experience by sharing your truth. Not only that, but being open and vulnerable may even inspire others around you to open up about their own struggles, too. Since the majority of the prejudice about mental health issues comes from ignorance, sharing your experience and showing the many faces of mental illness can help decrease stigma. However, you shouldn’t feel obliged to educate anyone who you feel is unwilling to listen.
  • Find a good support network. As important as sharing what is going on for us, is knowing who we can share with and trust. Finding a good network isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Try meeting new people through events around you. In the meantime, online forums can be a good way to get support, as well as eventually finding people who live in the same area.
  • Realize that everyone goes through their own struggles. For some it might be mental health, for others, it might be learning disabilities, weight issues or a variety of other things. While it’s true that some seem to have an “easier” life, we can never really know what goes on beneath the surface.
  • Take care of your body and mind. Exercise, meditation, and balanced nutrition can be essential, and make the difference between a good day and a bad one.
  • Practice a self-care routine. In the video, Rwenshaun mentions how coloring calms him down and keeps him focused. For you, it might be going for a walk while listening to a podcast or dancing in your room.
  • Be honest with yourself about your emotions. You might care about certain people in your life but be forced to admit that they trigger you or that your relationship with them is unhealthy. You might find that things that work for some people in their mental health journey don’t work for you. There are only so many yoga classes you can go to without feeling a benefit. Be willing to try different things, and don’t judge yourself for what you feel.
  • Compare yourself to past you instead of other people. It’s easy to feel like you’re losing when you’re comparing yourself to others. We only see what others choose to show. If we’re basing our judgment on social media, it’s important to remember that people usually showcase only their best. Everyone is on a different path, and we don’t all need to get to the same place at the same time. If you compare yourself to where you were a year ago, or five years ago, do you feel that you are in a better place? Do you feel more content in your life? Are you closer to pursuing your goals? Have you developed better communication skills? Made new friends?
  • Accept who you are. You might have a diagnosis, but you are so much more than that. If it helps, you can write a list of other qualities and interests you have. Keep it in an accessible place as a constant reminder that you are a worthwhile person deserving of love.

I talked to Rwenshaun Miller about recovery and living with bipolar disorder in the following video. He talks about his experiences dealing with stigma, as well as changes he made in his life to thrive. Once again, special thanks to him for sharing his story and doing his part to eliminate the stigma.

#YouAlreadyWon


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