When you’re constantly pushing yourself to do more, you leave yourself vulnerable to the effects of mental health. We spoke to Lizzy Yarnold on how performing at your best can really put a huge strain on you mentally.

The mental strain of winning  

The importance of being mentally fit

Whether you’re preparing for the Olympics or running a business, getting into the right frame of mind is important. We asked Lizzy how she prepares herself. “I always make sure I've got time-out sections in parts of the day, whether it's through yoga, reading or just switching off from the day-to-day stresses and pressure.”

And as Lizzy says, it’s about taking a step back and looking at yourself in a mirror to understand what works, and making the right adjustments if necessary.  She continues, “During those moments I think I tend to realise, is this working? Am I a bit overloaded? How do I feel - giving myself an opportunity to listen to my body.”  

Taking time out  

Taking time out

Sometimes, to improve your mental wellbeing, you need to take a step away from the day to day. Lizzy understood this far too well “After competing in my first Olympics and putting myself through this biggest challenge of becoming World Champion, European Champion, overall World Cup champion, I got to a point of complete burnout, both physically and mentally. Someone in my family wasn't well either, so it got to a point where I was trying to do everything and not necessarily feeling happy, and I was completely overwhelmed and didn't want to tell the coaches about it. 

But as any professional knows, it’s hard to tell someone that you need a break. Lizzy says “I didn't want to tell the team about it; you know, that I had limitations, I have weaknesses – it’s something that was difficult to admit to myself, let alone anyone else. When it came to a point that I had to tell people and I needed time for myself now, the team actually understood. I think they almost expected me to need a break after a lot of pressure.”

So as you can see, providing employees with the ability to take a break or work in a way that suits them can make all the difference. As Lizzy says “I was so glad that I did take that break, and I owned up to my own personal limitations, because from that I'm a lot stronger now.”

Being mentally fit  

Being mentally fit

We associate sport with being all about ensuring you’re physically fit. But being mentally fit is just as important. This is something Lizzy has learnt over the years, and has been vital to keep her on top of the game.  “I always make sure I've got time-out sections in parts of the day every day, whether it's through yoga or reading, or just switching off from the day-to-day stresses and pressure."

And as Lizzy knows, it’s about evaluating what works and what doesn’t, “During those downtime moments I tend to realise, is this working? Am I a bit overloaded? And give myself an opportunity to listen to how I feel.”

By providing employees with the opportunities to take time out and relax, you can ensure your champions can continue to perform at their best.

Strain  

Role models

Having a role model is key for employees to understand how to deal with mental health and what support is available to them. Employees are far more likely to open up to someone they can relate to.

Lizzy was lucky to have a special mentor she could turn to for advice, “Kelly Holmes is a big favourite of mine for how she holds herself, for her sporting prowess, but also everything that she has dealt with her mental health issues. She's an advocate for positive mental health, so she's a massive icon for me and she's lovely to talk to. We trained at the same athletics club, so I feel like she's my friend.”

Having mental health champions or mentors within a business will help promote good mental health, as well as outline support available for those who need it most.  

Sport and business

When it comes to tackling mental health, there are a lot that businesses can learn from sport. “One thing that sports seem to do quite well is understand people” says Lizzy. “Being in a team you need to understand who's got what positives, who's got what negatives, and how we can kind of balance each other and help each other perform”.

Lizzy says, it’s not just focusing on the physical side, “it’s understanding how our brains work when we’re under pressure - when things are going really badly and really well.”

It’s about thinking how people will react in certain situations, so you can provide the right help they need. Lizzy continues, “You are second in the Olympic final, how are you going to make sure you come first? The emotions that are displayed by someone in those situations, they are so important to understand, so you can help them become the best person that they can.”

That’s why it’s important to understand your teams’ individual traits, so you can help them when they’re struggling.

Experienced support when you need it most

When you’ve been off work for a while due to mental health issues, getting back into the flow of things is never easy. That’s where an experienced support network can make all the difference. Lizzy discovered how important this was after being absent due to back issues. “The coaches in the team played a big part in helping me return to sport, because they recognised this stress. They understood what I was going through first hand.”

And what Lizzy learnt was that it not about jumping straight back in and going full speed, but to take things slowly. Lizzy says, “They just said take your time, you're on your own journey, and not trying to be anyone else. Just be the best version of you that you can today. So I gave myself small goals to focus on each day and eventually got back up there on the podium.” Great advice that helped her pick up a second gold medal just four year later.  

Winning formula  

A winning formula

Having a plan is vital for looking after your employee’s wellbeing so you can identify the triggers and help deal with them when they arise. Lizzy knows all too well about this. “Mental wellness is something which I love to be a part of every day and it's important to have a plan for it - I love my time-outs, yoga and everything like that”.

She knows that if you don’t have a plan it’s easy to slip into bad habits that can trigger mental health issues, especially when you’re feeling emotional or if you can’t deal with day-to-day things as usual. Lizzy continues, “I know those are my triggers, those are something that I need to just take stock and see where I am with everything. Because if I know what the positives and negatives look like, I know how to get back to a good place if I need to.”

It’s good to talk

One of the hardest things in business is to get employees to open up and start talking about their mental health issues. Lizzy has some advice that she learnt on the track. “Most people suffer with mental health problems, whether it's self-doubt, confidence issues, depression, and it can be over weeks, it could be just that day, so I think every day keep talking, keep checking in with your team.”

It’s about giving people the opportunity to open up, with tools and support that they can access when they need it. Lizzy says, “Use WhatsApp groups and make sure people are okay, but also pick up the phone and make sure you actually ask that slightly difficult question, but you're so glad that you asked it, and the advice that I give to someone who feels as though that they are suffering is just talk to someone who may understand.”

So as you can see, it’s important to talk and once you do you’ll be surprised how many people can relate to the way you’re feeling. Lizzy says, “Once you've talked I realized that other people were like me, other people have been through similar things to me, and that it was okay, and that's kind of all I needed.”

Find out how you can ensure good mental health practices at work.