An Olympian on the mental health benefits of finding consistency in the chaos
Whether she’s spending the night at home or in a hotel three time zones away, American artistic gymnast and two-time Olympian Aly Raisman tries her best to snuggle into bed around 10 pm every night and get an early start most mornings.
It’s tricky to maintain given her ever-changing schedule and frequent travel plans, but as she tells Shape, having some type of routine is essential.
“Consistency, I think, with anything is really crucial,” explains Raisman. “I think it’s really good for your mental health to do the same things every day…It just gives me a nice sense of calm.”
Each morning, Raisman kicks off the day by spending a few moments reflecting on how she’s feeling and saying the three things she’s grateful for. From there, the two-time Olympic gymnast heads outside for a 15 to 20-minute walk with her puppy, Mylo. “Before I have any calls or before I’m checking my email, I try to just make sure that I have time that I’m unplugging,” she adds.
“I’ve been trying to break a bad habit of checking my phone first thing in the morning or checking my phone late at night, so I’m trying to make an effort to unplug when I can.”
Recently, the 27-year-old also started incorporating SmileDirectClub aligners into her routine, which are straightening out the teeth that have shifted in the years since she had her braces removed as a teen, she says. More significantly, they’re helping Raisman, who’s currently a partner with the company, create a smile that allows her to “be a better version of [herself].”
“I recently learned that when you actually have straighter teeth, it’s actually healthier for your mouth,” says Raisman, referring to the fact that straight teeth are easier to brush and floss, which reduces the amount of plaque build-up. “[Smiling also] has personally helped me on my mental health journey and healing. I think even when I’m sitting here just imagining myself smiling or actually literally, physically smiling, it makes me feel so much better.”
A consistent evening routine is key, too. A typical night for Raisman includes taking a walk with her dog, cooking a nutritious meal, and unwinding with a book or a bath before hitting the hay, she explains. Getting some shut-eye the second she hits the sheets isn’t always easy, however.
In recent years, Raisman has had to cope with many high-stress situations (for instance, last month’s US Senate hearing in which she testified about the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar case), and has struggled, at times, to quiet her mind at night. Her solution: Ensure that the foods she’s fueling herself with are helping her mental health, not contributing to her stress.
“I’ve actually found that when I eat really clean and I eat less sugar, it’s easier for me to control my ruminating thoughts, so I try really hard to cut as much sugar out of my diet as I can,” she says.
When she finds herself in a funk, Raisman puts on her detective hat and considers the potential culprits. “At the end of the day, if I feel more stressed or I feel more irritated, sometimes I try to reflect on if I ate something different that day and figure out [the cause],” she says.
“I try to be really reflective and aware of how I can make myself feel more relaxed. Sometimes I don’t know what it’s coming from, but other times it’s a little bit easier to figure out.”
But Raisman hasn’t always been this attuned to her emotions — nor did she have the tools to adequately care for her mental health while competing, she explains. “I think I’ve always been interested in how to recover better and how to feel better from the aspect of training, but when I was training, I didn’t really understand prioritising the mental health aspect as much as injury,” says Raisman, who retired from gymnastics in 2020.
“I think when I was competing, it wasn’t really talked about. It was just the mentality that you go until you can’t anymore kind of thing, and you just push yourself to the limit, so I wish I had more of the tools that I have now.”
Looking back on her competing days, Raisman does admit that if she knew how to care for her mental health at the time, it would have been much harder to train. “I think I would know I was pushing myself a little bit too much — I think I kind of ignored how I was feeling,” she says. That said, “I definitely don’t ignore how I’m feeling now, and I wouldn’t recommend ignoring how anyone feels,” she adds.
Even though she’s now in the groove of getting introspective — both physically and mentally — Raisman knows she still has some work to do if she wants to feel her absolute best. “Finding more moments where I’m still and calm is always something that’s hard for me,” she says.
“And just resting more and really being present when I’m resting is definitely, I think, a hard thing to do, but that’s definitely one of my goals and something I’m working on.”
This story first appeared on www.shape.com.
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Aly Raisman/Instagram)
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