Rethinking and building mental health

Why is it that we intuitively appreciate that to be in good physical shape requires some form of physical exercise, yet expect good mental shape to be pre-programmed? We don’t usually wait until we have Type II diabetes before we start moving, but it often takes a catastrophic event such as a breakdown or depression before we consider mental health. Mental health. There is a stigma attached to those two words that immediately make most people switch off. Many agree that mental health is an important topic, but not one that is relevant to them. There is probably an element of protecting one’s self-esteem here, with the perception that if you are working on your mental health, there must be something wrong to begin with. There is something wrong, but it isn’t you. There is a pretty strong argument to be made that the society we live in today is broken. Of course, there are many great things about being alive today, but we certainly are not living in accordance with how humans have evolved. Today we are exposed to chronic psychological stressors which our bodies have not biologically adapted to cope with. The purpose of the hormonal stress response is to prepare the resources of the body in preparation for crisis. But what happens when the body is constantly in the ‘flight-or-fight’ mode associated with imminent threat? Constant exposure to stressors and over-activation of this stress response (allostatic load) is associated with inflammatory disease and negative mental health outcomes. We are not supposed to be working 9 to 5 jobs for numbers on a screen that can turn...

40-Day No Messing Challenge

If you had to get someone in the best shape possible in 40-days, what would you do? A friend recently put this to me and it got me thinking, and my thoughts have turned into the following article. It is a long read, but it covers all your bases, so take mini-stretching breaks as needed and plough on. Why 40 days? Not a great length of time to achieve much in life really, but it’s short enough to be a do-able and realistic goal, and long enough to see changes and motivate the transformer to go for another 40 days. One thing we know is there are no magic pills, and long-lasting results come from keeping the head down and making training and movement part of your way of life. People do, however, respond well to shorter time-frames, helping them to stay focused. Three essentials for success with a training program:   -a good plan -consistency -optimal recovery and regeneration (food, sleep, stress-management) So for the purpose of this experiment, we have 40 days to get into the best possible physical condition. First thing in this case is we don’t have any time for the biggest problem anybody faces in a successful transformation: Poor compliance. The process of creating and changing habits is probably the most difficult part of the puzzle, and one which deserves the greatest investment of your efforts to begin with. Start small and gradually build healthful habits into your life. But for now, we will assume that the superpower of our friend here is the ability to instantly engrain good habits, because for this to...

Managing the Never-Ending Sporting Season

As we move into another winter winter, we reach the period of the year for many GAA players where one season blends into the next. Whether your club is lucky enough to have navigated its way through the County championship into the Provincial and All-Ireland series, or you are a student playing for your school or college, you probably haven’t been afforded much of a break this year. Des Ryan, Head of Athletic Development at the Arsenal Academy, speaking at Setanta College’s ‘Developing and Maximizing Youth Potential’ Conference in Thurles, warned that the physical demands on young GAA players are not sustainable. He wasn’t joking. I was speaking recently to one of this year’s Limerick minor hurlers who said he could do with a break. He wasn’t joking either. Let’s take a quick look at his year so far: He started training with Limerick in January, playing through to the All-Ireland quarter final in July. Somewhere in-between he managed to win a County u21 title in April. When the minor’s season ended, he joined up with the county U21 team who went on to win the All-Ireland final in September. He played with his club in the county minor championship as far as the final in October. The club senior championship started in April and culminated in final success in October, which sent them into the Provincial championship; they won that in November. Of course, back to school in September and straight into the Harty Cup, they topped the group this week and go into the quarter final in January. A brand new year. The club’s senior team continue to...