How to Protect Your Mental Health During a Struggle
- Gymnast Simone Biles, 26, bravely stepped back from competition to focus on her mental health and find happiness in life.
- She has since gotten married to the love of her life and has made mental health part of her talking points on social media.
- “Her stand has led to a major shift in how Black people and communities of color think about their mental health. She modeled the importance of caring for our whole bodies – our bodies and our minds,” psychologist Dr. Charmain Jackman added.
- Positive psychology focuses on encouraging feelings of positivity among patients and finding what brings a sense of vitality to their lives.
- Positive feelings can go a long way when people are facing a health challenge — like a cancer diagnosis.
Simone Biles became a household name as an A-list gymnast, dominating world championships and Olympic games over the years. However, during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, she shocked fans when she took a big step back from competition to focus on her mental health. How has she been doing since then?
“To do something that I’ve done forever and just not be able to do it because of everything I’ve gone through is really crazy because I love this sport so much,” Biles said after making her decision about competing.
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Notably, Biles faced a very public ordeal when USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar was accused and then convicted of sexually abusing young girls and women under his care. Biles had said in 2018 that she was one of the people he sexually assaulted.
“I don’t want another young gymnast, or Olympic athlete, or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during, and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse,” Biles said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, NBC News reported.
This and other personal struggles led to the Olympic champion to step away from competing and focus on improving her mental health. Since she prioritized her well-being, she’s found happiness and love.
In May, Biles married NFL star Jonathan Owens – first in a small private ceremony and then with a larger celebration in Cabo, Mexico on the beach. The happy couple were surrounded by close family and friends.
“A look into our most special day. I love being able to relive this day over and over,” Biles wrote in an Instagram post.
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When it comes to balancing a public and demanding life with your personal goals and struggles, Biles told the Associated Press, “We’re human too.”
“We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” the Olympian added.
Valuing your mental health has immense benefits. One of the benefits for cancer warriors includes a stronger mindset to walk their cancer journey.
How to Cope With Your Emotions and Mental Health
Everyone handles their feelings differently. During times of high stress, some people may suffer from anxiety and depression while others may become angry. Practicing positive psychology is an option for people juggling several stressors in life including a health diagnosis.
Positive psychology focuses on encouraging feelings of positivity among patients and finding what brings a sense of vitality to their lives.
Psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman promotes the “three wellsprings of vitality” to find positive psychology.
Dr. Boardman explains them as “pathways to embrace your everyday resilience.” In other words, these are tools people who may be struggling with mental health issues can embrace to help maintain a certain sense of positivity. And those positive feelings can go a long way when people are facing a health challenge — like a cancer diagnosis.
According to Dr. Boardman, these three wellsprings of vitality are:
- Connecting. This involves how you’re connecting with others and having meaningful interactions. It involves being a good listener and being engaged with the people around you who you care about.
- Contribution. How are you adding value to the people around you? Are you helping them in ways that feel meaningful to them? This entails contributing/engaging with others in a meaningful way.
- Feeling challenged. Being “positively challenged” could involve learning something new (perhaps by taking a new class or reading an interesting book) and expanding your mind in some way.
“Those are the cores of vitality, and the core pathways to enhance your everyday resilience,” Dr. Boardman said.
WATCH: Understanding the Three Wellsprings of Vitality
Expert Mental Health Resources
The Cultural Impact of Biles’ Mental Health Stance
Since withdrawing from the Olympic competition, Biles has integrated mental health into her brand.
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland expressed support for Biles by saying, “Mental wellness over all else,” the Associated Press reported.
Biles said in an Instagram post, “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The Olympics is no joke!” she said.
Biles’ willingness to publicly express concerns was met with an outpouring of support.
“That was a huge thing,” fellow U.S. gymnast Jordan Chiles said NBC reported.
“This was an extremely brave action that she took at a critical point in her career,” psychologist Dr. Charmain Jackman told SurvivorNet.
“Her stand has led to a major shift in how Black people and communities of color think about their mental health. She modeled the importance of caring for our whole bodies – our bodies and our minds,” Dr. Jackman added.
Dr. Jackman is the founder of InnoPsych, which helps connect therapists to communities of color. She says Biles helped broaden conversations about mental health.
“Sharing her mental health story opens conversations about a taboo and highly stigmatized topic. It has helped organizations think about their workplace culture and to be creative in how they address the emotional well-being of their employees,” Dr. Jackman said.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you find yourself struggling with a diagnosis or helping a loved one cope with their emotions, consider asking your doctor the following questions:
- How can I go about improving my outlook/mental health?
- Are there any activities I can do to encourage positive feelings?
- When should I seek other interventions if I’m still struggling?
- How can seeking these connections help me in my day-to-day life?
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