BLOG: Ways to improve your wellbeing and show mental resilience

The below is a blog from UKAD Athlete Commission Member and marathon runner, Hayley Carruthers.

As a runner, one of the most important psychological skills you can possess is mental resilience. It is something that I have worked hard to improve over the last few years with the help of a dedicated sports psychologist, Professor Andy Lane at the University of Wolverhampton. We have worked on mantras, self-talk, counting and reframing negative thoughts and I have seen huge improvements in my mindset, both in life and running.

In training, racing and in day-to-day life, we are going to face challenges that may seem impossible to overcome. It is important we find ways to ‘cope’ with these obstacles when they arise, followed by reflection to ensure you learn from these experiences in a positive way. That is mental resilience. You may already be very resilient, but it can always be improved.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so I wanted to share my ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ tips with you all. I believe a strong, healthy mindset can allow you to achieve goals you never thought were possible. This is an insight into how I stay mentally strong, and how you can too.

Connect - With social media being a huge driving force of communication, it can be easy to have reduced physical interactions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been even more difficult to do this. Instead of having a text conversation, try to organise a walk with a friend or a takeout coffee for a guaranteed mood boost. One of my favourite mood-boosting activities is meeting up with a friend for a run in a new location, with a good brunch spot nearby for rewarding ourselves afterwards!

Be active With the theme of the week being ‘nature’ and how our mental health is so closely linked to getting outside (now more than ever!), I thought I would touch on how I stay active. I generally run most days so being active is quite ingrained into my routine, but I definitely would recommend trying to do 30 minutes of exercise three times a week (this can be anything you fancy, such as a long walk, yoga or an intense HIIT workout). Fresh air is seriously underrated. However, if you are a runner or anyone suffering from an injury, being active might be difficult. In these circumstances, it is all about focusing on what you can do. Set yourself tasks such as doing a jigsaw or reading a book, so you can feel that sense of accomplishment on completion. 

Take notice - I use a diary to reflect on how I feel or how my training has gone that day, to ensure that I can notice any trends in tiredness or when I feel a bit low over each training block. I also keep note of three things I am grateful for each day to keep me grounded - this helps to end each day in a positive way. It is important to also take notice on how other people around you are feeling, they may just be waiting for someone to ask the right questions.

Keep learning - See obstacles as opportunities. Every day is a chance to learn something new and you will never experience the exact same thing twice. It is inevitable that we will face challenges in life, so it is about using your mind to turn the negatives into positives. This is especially important for me when I complete a race, and the result isn’t quite what I wanted. This is an opportunity to learn and, in a marathon, you generally learn more from a bad race than a good one! It takes time to improve your mental toughness, but it is worth the investment.

Give - Whenever I overcome a challenge, it is always worth sharing these experiences with others (so they can see you are only human too!). It may be useful for them if they meet a similar situation in the future. In running, I often share which mantras worked for me in tough patches of a race. This can help other runners with ideas for their mental toolkit and give them something new to try in their next tough training session. This can even be as simple as counting to four repeatedly!

By working on these things little and often, you can train your brain to be tougher than you think. As Oprah Winfrey said, “running is the greatest metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it”. Maybe you might even sign up for a marathon now…