This is where I feel most competent, not so much in the mental area but in the physical aspect. I used to compete at a high level in cycling. I even competed in the 2003 National Championships and 2004 Olympic Trials. I did not do as well as I would have liked, 42nd out of 8o+ competitors, but that is better than never trying. The process to get to this level was tough, not only the training but the mental preparation was essential to any level of success. I did have days I struggled to get out of my head. I would do 5+ hour training rides solo. This allowed for a lot of headspace and deep thought. Some days this was good; others were not. If the day started good, everything in its proper place, I would have a great ride. If I struggled to get out on the bike, the struggle would follow all day and keep me up at night.
The mental aspects of a cyclist are very complicated. You do not have a coach and teammates with you every day. You have to be self-motivated to get up and train every day. On top of this, you have the physical fatigue that causes you to doubt your fitness and competitiveness. I had days that I did not want to get up and go outside to train. One day I remember I had to do a 5-hour training base day when I was racing. This is where you go out and ride leisurely tempo and it was snowing. I decided to ride to Branson, Missouri, from Battlefield, Missouri. This way, I could ride out for 2.5 hours and be forced to finish the ride to get home. The weather was so cold that I had to place my water bottles down my shirt not to freeze. This played major tricks on my mind. I can not tell you how many “deals” I made to finish the 5-hour ride in freezing weather.
We make deals with ourselves every day. If I can get up, if I can finish this, if I can make it one more hour, if I can just complete this one assignment, and the list goes on and on. In life, we have milestones that we mark as accomplishments. Some of these are self-induced, and others come from outside factors. These milestones can also cause stress and anxiety. As a male, I like to act like nothing is wrong and “push through” the problems to achieve these goals. In some cases, I am successful, and no one knows the struggles behind my smile. Other times my stress comes out. As a male, this is what I struggle with the most. What others see and how I am perceived.
Let’s look back at cycling to explain how I deal with my anxiety and panic attacks that happen from time to time. In cycling, there is an event that is called a Criterium. In a Criterium, you ride around a short circuit with 25-100 other cyclists at speeds well over 36Mph. At each corner, you have to turn on tires that are no wider than half of an inch while maintaining the 35+Mph speeds with having other cyclists on your left and right doing the same. The acceleration and heart rates jump. During this hour-long race, you have to calm yourself and breathe so you do not implode and get dropped. Every lap, this happens multiple times. I made so many deals with myself to make it to the first corner, just 15 seconds more, 10 mins, 20 mins, 40 mins, then the final lap. In life, I use this method on day-to-day tasks that may feel overwhelming. Deep breaths and focus do help me most of the time. I do have the ability to calm myself when I have anxiety attacks or get upset. This is a skill I have learned through exercise and competitions. This practice may not work for you. You may need to talk with someone, do yoga, take a break, or consult other resources. All I am saying is you do you and do not let others tell you to “calm down” or “this is best for you.” The reality is, you know what works for you. If you don’t, here are a few ideas that may help.
As a husband, father, educator, and athlete I have to find a balance. Time is a resource that does not renew. Decide what and how to use this gift. In the famous words of a very notable scholar, “Life Moves Pretty Fast. If You Don’t Stop And Look Around Once In A While, You Could Miss It.” — Ferris Bueller.
Take a break sometimes. This is precisely what the/a doctor would prescribe.
Your partner in education and parenting,
Douglas Greek EdD