The Olympics wrapped up on Sunday night, minus the Queen and her spouse. I had hoped she would have left the arena in a manner as spectacular as her entrance. More importantly though, what’s next for these Olympians, the majority of whom did not medal? Is there something that those affected by chronic conditions can take from it?
Those who are determined to make it to Rio, the site of the 2016 Olympics, will take a mini vacation, or not, and go back to training. If you are a “star,” like Michael Phelps or Gabby Douglas, there are talk shows to do and commercials to make, at least for the next few weeks before football takes over. However, for many, they had their moment in London.
Paul Bowler, a former Olympic gymnast noted “I thought life was over,” Generally as a gymnast, your career finishes, you almost have a nervous breakdown and then you go sit in the corner of a gym and teach children the rest of your life until you start breathing in magnesium.”
New research shows that intensive exercise is as addictive as heroin, which means those returning athletes who will not continue to train are at risk for a with drawl that can lead to anxiety, depression and worse. While exercise is a good way to combat depression, there is also new research that shows a much higher than anticipated, possibly as high as 50%, of elite athletes that are at risk for exercise dependence, where they perceive severe physical, mental and social consequences if they don’t train. It’s not surprising then that these athletes may be more prone to substance abuse, eating disorders and suicide than the general population. This helps explain why they have a shorter life expectancy. Olympians and life expectancy
“No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to retire, and no one wants to think about the end,” said Nicole Detling, a visiting professor at the University of Utah College of Health and a sport psychology consultant for the U.S. Speed Skating team and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “We call it the post-Olympics let-down,” she said. “Within the time period following the Olympics, even those who’ve medaled have this period of time where if they were checked for depression, they’d be diagnosed.”
However, “The more ‘real’ and grounded the person is, the easier they can step out of the elite role to see it for what it is and have a structure to fall back on,” says Jayashri Kulkarni, director of the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre in Melbourne. Olympians Hanging Up Cleats Risk Drug Addict-Like Ills
There is a strong message from these Olympians. Whether it’s the end of a career, failure or even achievement of a goal or dream, an injury, illness, or having to significantly change your life to accommodate a chronic condition, the more one is capable of being grounded and centered, the better the chances of weathering the peaks and valleys of life and reducing the risk of serious emotional and physical problems.
So some pointers on staying centered:
• Work at Keeping a Strong Social Network. It was interesting to hear Michael Phelps speak at length about his relationship with his niece. She sounded like a grounding influence on him. Strong friendships and family can make a big difference in how you deal with the ups and downs of life.
• Be more than a “one crop” farmer: Develop multiple interests and participate in different activities that fully engage you. Learn something new. Read an interesting article in the New York Times about how people in the third act of life-those over 65-are living incredibly healthy lives by being fully engaged.
• Incorporate Break Times in Your Day: According to the psychologist Martha Beck, I discovered a two-word instruction that reliably ushered me onto the plains of peace when I couldn't force my brain to just "be still." Here it is: Make something. You see, creative work causes us to secrete dopamine, a hormone that can make us feel absorbed and fulfilled without feeling manic. This is in sharp contrast to the fight-or-flight mechanism, which is associated with hysteria hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Research indicates that we're most creative when we're happy and relaxed, and conversely, that we can steer our brains into this state by undertaking a creative task. Read more on the importance of Taking a Break.
• Develop your spirituality: Having a connection to the non-material aspects of life, can significantly help in understanding and accepting the ebb and flows of what’s happening.
Many of these ideas and more are contained in Healing the Whole Person: Ways to Increase Well-Being.