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Use his tip for making your mind the ultimate PED.
For most of his years as an elite swimmer, 28-time medalist Michael Phelps resisted opening up about anxiety and depression for fear that doing so would give his competitors an edge. “I was trying to sharpen every tool I had to make sure I was better than every single other human being,” he says. For a long time, he assumed that winning gold meant honing his body and ignoring his psychological health.
But in 2014, after many years of being silent about these feelings, he decided to come out of the shadows and get help. “I got to the point where I didn’t want to be alive anymore,” Phelps says. “I was fed up with feeling like crap. I wanted to give myself a chance.”
When he finally sought treatment, he felt as though a huge weight had been lifted. “I felt like I’d been carrying around a backpack full of dumbbells all my life. I was finally able to like who I was.” He’s since come to see mental well-being is the key to success. “If somebody’s willing to do everything they can, physically and mentally, to strengthen themselves, they can become a superhero,” he says. And he’s committed to breaking down the stigmas that keep people from seeking help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, fewer than forty percent of American men receive treatment for mental illness, and men are nearly four times more likely than women to die by suicide.
With Phelps’s help, ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”94d4066f-5e49-4d03-881c-8f6723e36235″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” data-affiliate-network=”” data-vars-ga-media-type=”” data-affiliate=”true”>Talkspace is launching a “Permission Slip” campaign to encourage people to ditch the guilt when it comes to prioritizing mental health. (Create your permission slip here.) It’s OK to admit you’re in a tough spot and could use some help. The idea of the permission slip is simply to write down what you’re going to give yourself permission to do when it comes to putting mental health on your agenda.
Phelps says the first word on his own permission slip is “forgiveness.” After twenty years of being hyper-focused on perfecting his swimming performance, it’s still tempting come down hard on himself. “I can get ahead of myself and stop living in the moment,” he says. The permission slip serves as a reminder to let himself off the hook.
Chats with his therapist are today a regular part of Phelps’ routine. So are reading and journaling. “I’m a big believer in writing things down,” he says. Putting pen to paper helps him to process his feelings and to steer out of emotional skids before he runs off the road.
Though he’s no longer logging endless hours in the pool, life keeps him busier than ever. He has three young boys with his wife, Nicole. Working out remains a crucial part of maintaining emotional balance. He’s in the gym six to seven days a week. His weight workouts range between 60 and 90 minutes, three times a week, and are written for him by the same trainer he’s used throughout his Olympic career. He adds cardio with a stationary bike, elliptical machine, and rower.
Phelps still swims, though not nearly as long or as hard as he once did. Instead, he works on feeling the connectivity of his body. Time in the water gives him a break from the craziness of life, the space to breathe and regroup. It’s a lesson he hopes to pass along to his sons. “I tell my boys that sometimes Daddy needs to take a time out, too,” he says. “I hope it helps them to understand their emotions – and their mental health – so much better. I didn’t learn to express my emotions until a late age.”