April is Stress Awareness Month, and as we continue to navigate a global pandemic which has caused so much disruption, and head towards an Olympic and Paralympic Games, managing pressure and stress levels has never been more important for our members.
In the intense and, at times, all-consuming environment of elite sport, having another passion, a distraction or simply a way to switch off from training and competition, is vital. Here, cyclist Lora Fachie explains how she achieved that crucial balance over the last few years.
“As April is Stress Awareness Month, I wanted to share a little of my experience of managing stress and staying on top of my mental health, especially in the run in to a major competition.
“Three years ago I was going through a bit of a bad patch in my sport, cycling, and was very seriously considering retiring. I was getting very little enjoyment from it and as a result, my mood was very low. I went to speak to our performance lifestyle advisor, Ben, to explore my options.
“The problem was, although I didn’t think I wanted to continue training, I also didn’t know what I wanted to do instead. Ben sat me down and got me to think about what it was that did make me happy. The two things I came up with were my dogs, and food.
“When exploring the topic of food a little more, it quickly became clear how animated it made me, and just one discussion about how much I love cooking already helped boost my mood.
“One chat led to another and we decided to explore starting up a food blog. I never considered writing before. I mean, I hate writing, however when it involves food it just seems so much easier.
“The blog, called Blindingly Good Food, was started in January 2019 and immediately had an impact on my mental wellbeing. Suddenly I had a purpose again, I had something to think about that wasn’t cycling related, and something that made me smile.
“When thoughts around cycling, training, and racing started to stress me out I could immediately escape from them and think about food instead. I’d think about what recipes I was going to make that week to share on the blog, what topic I was going to discuss, whether it was how I do something when I can’t see what I’m cooking, or whether I was talking about how I plan my nutrition or what I eat during training.
“I felt like there was a whole weight off my shoulders. Suddenly there was more to me than riding on the back of a tandem. I had something else, something completely separate from bikes. Something that didn’t matter if I won or lost, if my cycling performance was good or not. It was irrelevant, I could still write my blog.
“This created so much extra head space that I felt like a completely different person. I felt freer and like I had some control back of my life. Amazingly, the improvement in my overall mental wellbeing had a major knock-on effect on my cycling performance. Because I had relieved some of the stress that I was putting on myself to train, I had a complete change of mindset towards cycling, and my performance improved as well.
“Initially my blogging was very regular because I needed it so much, but now I’m far more relaxed about it. I still turn to it more when I need some escape and I still enjoy it. However, as cycling is back to giving me some fulfilment as well, I’m not solely reliant on the blog.
“My advice to anyone who is feeling stressed around their sport or with anything in life is to take a step back if you can and work out what does make you happy. Don’t be afraid to be selfish and focus on what gives you satisfaction. After all, you will only get the best out of yourself if you have plenty of head space and enjoy what you do.”