Triathlon & Happiness | The Relationship Between Sport & Mental Health
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Triathlon & Happiness | The Relationship Between Sport & Mental Health

– You know in 2017, I just could not get out of it, you know increasing thoughts of self-harm increasing thoughts of taking my own life, you know just this really dark place, and the thoughts just
kept on kind of spiraling and I’ve reached a point where I knew it was bad enough that I had to share it. – I mean it got to the point where I’ve phoned up aid and I told her I don’t really
want to mention it on camera but yeah, it got pretty, it got pretty heavy. – The pressures of training
for and racing a triathlon can build up and become overwhelming, but on the flip side
swimming, cycling and running can actually act as an escape from the pressures of everyday life. Mental health issues are
as real as a broken leg yet we find them so much
harder to talk about, well this needs to change and we want to open up this discussion within the world of triathlon. What we found two triathletes who are happy to share
their very different yet difficult personal experiences of dealing with the negative
sides of mental health. We’ve got Sarah True, professional triathlete
and two-times Olympian, who just couldn’t cope with the pressure of competing at that level, and that led her into a
downward spiral of depression. Also we have Matt Pritchard, star from the UK TV show Dirty Sanchez, who found himself getting
addicted to drugs and alcohol and then also leading him into depression, but he then found triathlon as a way to help deal with his issues. Mental health issues and
specifically depression can be triggered by numerous factors and these obviously vary significantly from person to person, equally the levels and
depths of that depression will be different for each individual. For Sarah it was the
pressure of training for and then competing at an Olympic Games. – There are definitely
these high stress periods, these periods that tend
to exacerbate depression, I think it’s really important
to try to identify them, both as an athlete or as
somebody who supports an athlete, whether you are a spouse
or a partner or a coach, you know just to be aware that these are periods where an athlete who may not have a history
of mental health problems, you just you need to be aware of that, if they do have a history it
could be possibly devastating. So it’s, so I think you know the first one is around high pressure events, so before and after the Olympic Games both my Olympic Games, like fourth place in 2012
I had depression as well but it’s very common. So this is something that’s unspoken. Like if you’re somebody
who’s built up to a marathon, if you build up to an Ironman, it’s very common to have, to experience depression post event, so I think that’s
something to be aware of. Injury, illness, this is
a big one overtraining, so there is totally a correlation between overtraining and depression, and this is something that probably my biggest takeaway from my career is that I was tough,
like most triathletes, toeing the line with overtraining or going over it for an
extensive part of my career. – Knowing what triggers these poor episodes of mental health for you or others close
to you is important, but recognising the signs of depression and then accepting it, is
often the hardest part. I mean there’s still this
stigma around mental health but I really feel that
the more we talk about it, the easier it’s going to be
for those who are suffering to find the help that they need. – Yeah I think the biggest thing for me is I went through a period of pretty severe depression in 2017, it was you know the tail
end of I would actually say very prolonged period
of low-level depression, and basically when I got out of it, I was super grateful to frankly be alive. – I know I was a bit of a tough guy, I suppose yeah there’s a bit of, that is a bit of toughness, I mean obviously people
are not going to be able to do triple Ironmans and stuff if there wasn’t a bit of toughness. But there’s also a
massive soft side to me, life’s pretty hard to
deal with these days, and I’m you know I’m almost a product of my own environment because I put a lot of stress on myself, because I’m constantly working working, I’m dangerous in my own head, so I try and keep myself busy, so if I’m ever not busy, I overthink. But there’s another thing I can be, I’m not really good with pressure that sends me sideways. I’m pretty open with my mental health it’s just not, it’s not something
that’s going to go away, but I know how to control it now. – The next step is to
start to find strategies to help deal with these
periods of depression. And I go back to the broken leg analogy, with that you’ve got
a clear treatment plan and a time scale for the physical healing, however the brain is a
far more complex organ and sadly there isn’t a prescription that you can just go and pick up from your local pharmacist
that’s going to heal you. Well Sarah discusses the importance of finding and developing a skill set to help you cope with it. – We don’t do enough
about talking proactively about mental health and trying to equip people with information and help them develop a skill set, so that when they go through these really really dark periods, to be able to cope better. So for me you know I realised that I was fortunate enough you know, having had a history of depression that I had developed these
skills over the years, where I could balance
high performance sport the same time as you know going through these lower moments and be able to balance
them you know fairly well. Like I was still able to train, I was still able to
compete a pretty good level but these were things
that if I had known them, when I was you know a teenager, early 20s, my triathlon career would
have been totally different. – There’s plenty of evidence out there that shows that exercise can reduce negative thoughts as well as
enhance mental well-being, but finding other tools
that can help you deal with poor episodes of
mental health are key. Well to find out how to address these and work out some coping strategies, I need the help of Sports
and Exercise Psychologist, Dr. Simon Marshall. – One thing to just say off the bat is that self-help or strategies
that you can try yourself is the first port of call, when you’re kind of struggling, so rather than immediately thinking, oh my god dude what’s wrong with me, do I need to see a therapist, there’s a whole host of things that we can try and do to sort of just generally help
our emotional life, period, whether we’re feeling down or blue or not. So one of those is to keep track of the thoughts and emotions
that you are having, so this is a bit like a thought
or of or an emotion journal. And one of the reasons that works so much is it gives us some separation between our emotional internal experience and sort of what the actual
objective reality is, so we can see things, so writing them down and reading them back to yourself
is a really great strategy and something really is
the first port of call to enable you to do the next step, which is to learn how to challenge some of those thoughts and emotions that you might be having. And that’s certainly where psychotherapy or clinical psychology begins, but we can do this ourself and there are a bunch of
resources that you can get online, if you just google for
example thought journal, or emotion journaling or there’s even apps
now to help you do that. It’s a really good sort
of exercise to get into. One technique that’s really helpful, is called detachment or grounding and again a lot of
psychologists use this too. And it’s for those that it’s
when you’re feeling as though, it’s a little bit more severe than normal, so we often use kind of
a six out of 10 scale of like emotional pain. I’m really feeling as
though now I’m struggling, I find I am withdrawing a bit, I’m struggling to get out the house, sort of things that were previously were enjoyable are no longer, and it’s not just this ever-present thing that comes around with me, it’s now actually become
a bit more intense. So detachment training is simply to get you out of your own head and that’s one of the experiences that we know of people who
have depression anxiety, they’re very much in their own heads, so a detachment exercise like a mental detachment exercise is to simply sit down and describe your environment in detail but without any emotion. So you’re not using words like good or bad you’re simply describing what things are. So I mean that is a bicycle
over one of my shoulders here, so I’d be saying well, there are panels on the
saddle which are green, and there’s lots of stitching and it’s worn out and there, you’re going in microscopic
detail about what you see, and what that does it
gives you a little bit of immediate sort of relief because it’s a distraction technique, it gives you a little
bit of immediate relief from your emotional experience. Because what we’re trying to do is to say, you are not your emotional experience, you’ve convinced yourself if I feel for example
hopeless, that I am hopeless, we’ve made, we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking those
two are the same thing. So detachment techniques, help you get some separation for that. And think of it like physical training, I’m going to do 10 minutes
of detachment training, or I’m going to sit down
in a new environment, I could walk down to the
bench in my local park or the library, or go down
to the local shopping center and I’m in my head, I’m just going to describe what I see from one thing to the other in detail, so mental detachment is good. You can do it physically as well, you can say I’m going to hold, you know find a physical sensation, it might be running your hands underwater, holding an object that’s really textured so that your senses are
running some interference on your emotional or internal world, and do this for like 10
minutes or 15 minutes a day, you schedule it particularly
if you’re in that phase where I just can’t leave the house or just things feel so
terrible at the moment, think of this like a goal, and that really leads into
another great strategy is give yourself small
goals every single day. One of the problems that we know, is that we lose structure, our ability to have structure in our lives when we feel emotionally down, and we need to try and get that back , so it doesn’t require that
much emotional burden or pain because you’re not actually
describing those things and you have to see this. And of course it is an effort and this is the paradox of self-help, is that we’re trying to use the problem, our mind, to fix the problem, our mind so if course it’s really difficult, so this is leads into another
strategy, is get help, get someone who knows
you well or reminds you to say hey remember it’s
three o’clock today, 10 minutes of detachment training or I’m going to come over and we’re going to do this, or remember to do so and so. So outsource some of that
structure or accountability to someone else, because
we’re not very good at doing that ourselves when we’re in down a bit of a hole. – Mental health is such a broad topic and one that affects many more of us than we might even realise. Sarah’s talked very openly about how life as a professional athlete and the pressures that came with it, actually led her to realising
that she had depression and helping her find coping
strategies to deal with it, which actually as a result has made her a stronger athlete. Well Matt’s experience however
is completely different, in the fact that he is so passionate about the positive effects that he gets from competing
as an age group athlete in triathlon, so much so that he’s actually planning on doing a Deca Ironman soon, that’s ten Ironmans in a row. – It’s doing a triple Ironman
and that kind of stuff, when I’ve got a lot of time on my hand or my issues come out, nobody knows about them, they all are coming out, all that time on a bike, like I said, I daydream and I just take myself to,
there’s a lot of people that, yeah unfortunately, my mind
is full of (bleep) hate. (Scoffs) I hate a lot of people, but I deal with it by going out on a bike or running and I channel that
energy through triathlon. I know some other people might channel it through bashing drums or playing the guitar or something, but that’s you know if I go for a swim with an angry head, I’ll
normally come out 99% with a happier head, and it’s the same for a bike
and it’s the same for running, running more than anything. So if I’m running I’m just (bleep) just really picks my spirit up big time and when you get that runner’s high and I’m just like wow and again, I’ve had runner’s high before, I’d be so (bleep), I’d be so high as a kite on runner’s high, I’ve started crying, man weird but. My last my last bit of
advice for anyone struggling just don’t give up. I can guarantee there’s
a lot of people out there really just do just want to
give up, just don’t give up, just keep fighting, it’s not, it’s it isn’t as bad as you think and it will always repair itself.

About Bill McCormick

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61 thoughts on “Triathlon & Happiness | The Relationship Between Sport & Mental Health

  1. I went through a motivation crisis beeing all the time 4th place and not top 3 in my age group in olympic distances. There was no progress, constant overtraining and then I lost motivation and the worst, I had no fun at triathlon and had to force myself to train. So I draw a line and quit triathlon for three years. After one year no sport I realized I need sport to be mentally fit. I tried different sports and played some time basketball, squash and started cross country skiing. I learned triathlon is more than swim, bike, run. You need to be mentally fit and have fun. Well, and fun should be the number one argument for every sportsman. So I don't think about finishing time and place anymore. I experimented with different training techniques and sports to get the most fun out of triathlon. Because triathlon is one of the most beautiful sports, but lots of people don't see that and suppress the fun with endless technical stuff you must need, crazy training plans, expensive entry fees, … So look for the FUN in triathlon.

  2. We need more awareness and less stigma of the 3rd leg of total health (physical, spiritual, and mental). Thank you for the great video.

  3. GTN, you are amazing. We don't discuss the mental side of the sport nearly enough, and when we do it's largely around the aspect of toughness. Our minds are amazing things but terribly fragile. So proud of Sarah and Matt for openly discussing what they've gone through – it'll only help the conversation become easier for other athletes.

  4. Finding meaning and preparing for a changing meaning that you are or are not in control of. For athletics who are in control and find from one day to the next, they no longer are in control is traumatic. Logotherapy often can help.

  5. @gtn have you heard about polish movie "Breaking The Limits"? It's about guy that goes out from addiction and starting triathlons, winning double IronMan. It's based on true events from 80s. Check it out!

  6. With reactive depression and actual problems it helps 0. It only helps if you make up your problems.

  7. Great video. Being an athlete with mental health struggles has been an challenge, but also a motivator to try to bring awareness to it and help fellow athletes who experience similar struggles. The passion that I have developed to help athletes with mental health concerns has driven me down the path of conducting research that will hopefully be useful and helpful for the athletes who are struggling and those around them to be able to help. Cheers GTN for bring awareness to this tough topic to talk about for both us athletes that are struggling and those around us.

  8. This is a great video, because it de-constructs the stigma around mental health. Thank you so much for publishing it!

  9. Wow GTN an amazing video very well done, I am so happy you have spread awareness of this topic because it is bigger than some people think and even though it feels it you are really not alone and there are so many people going through similar situations to you so don’t worry about just saying something because they will have likely been through similar or even going through similar. Just literally saying how you feel to somebody is really going to help you because when you don’t it just builds up and up and up and gets worse but speaking to somebody will make you feel so much better and make you feel abler to cope overall. I have been through depression my self and I made the mistake of not telling anyone and I almost took my life not doing so, it just got so exhausting having these thoughts in your head. But I found speaking to somebody that I really trusted to really help me through my struggles and it helps so much. Please if you are reading this just keep on going and never ever give up, there is an amazing life planned for you and if you give up it will never ever come alive. You are better than you think, you just need to believe it!

  10. I battle this almost every day. I think working out helped the last two years . However marathons and now hopefully going after my first IM has helped me deal with the worst times I can recall. I am a survivor and I have tried seeing a counselor ,but unfortunately my insurance won’t cover much and really don’t have the financial freedom to seek help. So yes triathlon or endurance sports have continued to save me daily. Thank you for this video

  11. Great video Heather, thanks to Matt and Sarah for having the courage to talk so openly about a taboo subject. Chapeau to GTN as well for tackling the subject. More of these please.

  12. i have psychotic syndrome , schizophrenia i am in medication….and i want to be an ironman….. maybe half ironman… today i swim one hour open water it was great, the training make me feel alive

  13. Important stuff. Srsly, I personally think he has the wrong breed that could help him with his mental illness.

  14. Well done Heather and GTN team for highlighting this subject. Mental Wellbeing, a subject we tend to hide however it needs to be talked about and shared. Tri and sport is a strategy many use to mitigate and help them through tough times. Awesome subject to share. Keep up the great work.

  15. Triathlon is important. But reaching out and helping someone else is the cornerstone of my mental health. Easier said than done but service is a sure fire way to be truly joyous

  16. Thank you for sharing this. I have issues with depression and anxiety, triathlon, particularly running is my go to for my mental release and to give me the rush of endorphins to help see me through the tough times.

  17. Going from elite athlete in any sport, to the next phases of life is hard for lots of people. As elite (amature or pro) athlete you focus on results, which are often measurable as places or selection for a team. When you retire from a elite sport goals as other life activities take priority e.g. age, making a living, family, etc, it is often hard to tune the mind to new norm for achievement given the new parameters in which you have to fit your training around. It then becomes a constant battle to set targets that are achievable and be happy with them. I now that physically and mentally (when not injured) and given the chance to train as I'd like, I would be in the 10hr IM field, however reality is I can never train as I'd like because of life so have to allow myself to be happy in the 14hr field.

  18. Depression and addiction are best friends. If your an addict, doesn't matter what to, then you seek the endorphins, the feeling, the rush. Suffering on a bike gives me that, but you need to realise that all you've done is swapped one potentially dangerous addiction for a socially acceptable one. You're still an addict. Accept that and you have the key…..or maybe that's just me ✌️

  19. Thanks GTN for a great and really important video. Sarah and Matt's stories are great examples of two ends of a spectrum, both very bravely and openly told. I would just want to draw attention to the many many less extreme examples that are part of everyday life for so many of us. I'm not competitive at all in terms of races (i.e. I'm very slow!), but use races as goals to structure/incentivise my training . For me it's all about the training, which is a massive boost to my mental health. GCN also made a great video about mental health and cycling for those who would like more.

  20. GTN has made some great videos but this is the most important video that the GTN crew have put out. We are only beginning to scratch the surface in terms of breaking down the stigma still attached to mental illness. There are ways to get help and significantly more resources are needed to address the issue in broader society but videos like this are an important first step. A massive “well done” to GTN for dealing with mental health in such a mature and nuanced way.

  21. Precisely why I got into Triathlon a few years ago, to try and battle my own mental health issues, to prove to myself that I am capable of achieving goals despite my attempts to put myself down and hate myself. It's a constant cycle which I'll never be truly free of, but with therapy (CBT + counselling) and sport I will keep moving forward. Thank you GTN for helping to raise awareness. Ironman Wales for me this year 🙂

  22. Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Triathlon has gotten me through one of the darkest times in my life. I believe exercise in collaboration with the setting of goals are both cornerstones to having a positive mental outlook. One is based on the physiological affect via serotonin release, the feel good chemicals in your brain, and the other gives you purpose. They are part and parcel to one another. I also feel a real sense of community within the organization that also helps. This was an excellent video. Thank you for producing it.

  23. Meditate or do yoga and take time to relax from hard training.
    If you talk about depression being a problem you've never experienced some real shit.

  24. There is such a stigma that goes along with mental wellness, or lack thereof. To face that in this video is moving, and shows that at least somewhere, someone is braving our society to the right direction for mental well-being. All the positive feedback that you have received since this video came out should show that you are doing it right. Cheers!

  25. A lot of information in this video really transcends triathalon or sport in general. Thank you

  26. Amazing film GTN, and thanks to those courageous athletes for sharing their difficult stories

  27. Thank you for sharing this episode GTN.
    Myself, and many people I train and compete with suffer from depression. We swim, ride, and run to disconnect.
    I would have to say I feel more open with my fellow triathletes than I am with family or friends. We may not all be going through something, but we all have our reasons why we train and that understanding and acceptance speaks volumes.
    It's not always easy to wake up for a 5am session, but the day is always so much greater after having finished.

  28. Fantastic. I've spent time with anxiety. Triathlon and training gives me the time to think. Either about the challenge ahead or what Fraser, Mark or Heather said about technique. If you break a bone you get it seen to, if you have trouble with your well-being it's a stigma. Some great advice here. Life is better when you Tri

  29. Thank you to GTN and Heather for liking and replying to so many comments. Myself and I'm sure others are appreciative. It shows true passion and care for mental health awareness.

  30. All I can say is wow. Such a short video made the blocks fall into place from my earliest childhood memories to now. There is a pattern, and now matter how far I run or ride from it, it is still there and it is not just me, it happens to other people too. Thanks for such an eye opening video. I will have to rewatch this several times there is so much in it.

  31. Please do more on this subject it’s so important! Iv been fighting my mental health for over 20years and it so helps to see these “strong” people admit they struggle too, Iv been trying to complete the training for an Ironman for so many years but it’s always my head that gets in the way, I did 4 months of great training to try and complete Lanzarote this year, I was sooo motivated then within the course of a couple of weeks it was gone! I was so down and angry with myself, I took an OD and didnt train for two months, I’m finally getting back into it again but every time is a little harder, I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to the start line, let alone the finish line, but I’ll keep trying

  32. Wow, thanks for making such a great video about this important topic! And a huge thank you to the Triathletes to speak so open about their experience!

  33. Don't give up! Good advice.
    Also try meditation – helps mentaly a lot, also if you don't have mental issues

  34. Thank you for raising such an important topic, and looking at it in such a fantastic way. I’d always flirted with deep depression but after a back injury floored me, I ended up deep in it. Exercise is definitely my saviour. I’m more a cyclist than triathlete (based on number of events!) but it all helped. Cycle-therapy is what has me being here to comment today. The more awareness there is, the easier it is to talk and help everyone affected or with someone affected with any mental health challenge

  35. Guys, I am a great fan of your videos, but this one is next level! Thank you so much for openly talking about this and raising awareness. I had personally suffered with menthal health issues in the past and got into triathlon to avoid going there again. The exposure to the elements along with a sense of accomplishment are a great way to combat stress and prevent other factors that usually trigger those issues. Very inspirational. Thank you again!

  36. Here again after today's incident, listening to therapeutic Sarah. She should stay calm and watch this video and hear her words after that awful collapse. We are all with you Sarah❤️

  37. Been there, annihilating myself with training to forget the despair. Self loathing, overtraining, injuries, burnout.

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