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  • Jacqueline Siempelkamp

Olympians Have Their Limits, Too

Many of us look forward to the Olympics each year they occur. The world slows down, just a little bit, to celebrate the hard work these amazing athletes have put in their entire lives. Olympians surely show physical endurance, dedication, and mental toughness. When thinking of mental toughness, we may interpret this as “never giving up,” “pushing through anything,” and “taking things one step at a time.” Being mentally tough certainly does encompass pushing our limits and exceeding them to heights we never knew we could reach; but being mentally tough is also knowing our limits and taking a step back when we need to, whether we are wanting to take a break or not.

Simone Biles, Olympic gymnast, has been all over the news recently for displaying mental toughness in a way that isn’t often associated with athletes of her standing. Simone is known for shattering expectations and is a role model to all, young and old. She pushes limits and encourages us to put in hard work, believe in ourselves, and join together as a team. Which is why she likely shocked us all when she announced she would be withdrawing from several events to focus on her mental health.

Our limits are not always clear until we’ve started to go past them. Sometimes we are rewarded, and other times it is a reminder that slowing down to take care of ourselves is necessary. Simone came to the Olympics intending to compete—watching her experience reminds us that Olympians are human too. Stepping back, when her body and mind were over their limits, took great courage and consideration.

Like Olympic champions, we are all wise when we know our boundaries and how we can prioritize our mental health. Here are some ways to keep our own limits in mind:

· Emotionally check in: When is the last time we answered honestly about how we are doing? Someone asks how we are today and we reflexively respond, “Fine! How are you?” We put pressure on ourselves to do as much as possible and to perform at our highest level. This can take a toll more often than not. Take time for an emotional check in, often, to evaluate how you are feeling and what is contributing to those emotions. Are you feeling anxious, overwhelmed, drained, etc.? Some stress is normal and can even be positive for us to work through, but putting too much on ourselves can be harmful. Step back and think—am I putting too much pressure on myself? Are these expectations realistic? What can I adjust here? These questions can help give us a place to start.

· Lean on support: Our support system helps us get through the toughest of times and if we aren’t identifying who those people are, the time to start is now. Our people can help keep tabs on our mental health and can even see signs in us that we need to take a break before we do, sometimes. Asking for help isn’t shameful—it takes strength to know we can’t do it alone.

· Self-care, self-care, self-care: Have we mentioned self-care? All jokes aside, putting energy into taking good care of ourselves is critical in caring for happy, healthy minds. If we’re running on “empty” all the time, we have nothing left to give to ourselves, or others for that matter. Pay attention to how you’re doing in each area—physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally, intellectually, and socially. Chances are at least one of these areas needs some attention to get you functioning at your best.

· Be confident: As therapists, we often say “you know yourself best.” Feel confident that you are making the right choices for you. It doesn’t matter what someone might think of you, or how it might make you look. You know yourself better than anyone else could, which includes knowing your limits. If you know it’s time to take a break, or you can’t take on that extra thing right now—say something and take a step back. Prioritizing your mental health comes first and knowing you can feel confident you did what’s best for you will feel great.

Taking care of our mental health is imperative, no matter the situation or the timing. Simone had all eyes on her while making her decision; she can most likely attest that prioritizing her mental health during the Olympic Games wasn’t planned or preferred. However, the timing of this necessary choice demonstrates that we cannot always choose the “best” time to take care of ourselves. Our body and mind have limits and need to be cared for. This goes for Olympic athletes, too.

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