Monitoring and addressing our mental health needs every day can be exhausting and draining, often leaving little space in our lives for working, invaluable, feel-good running sessions, and self-care. So, whether aiming for a 40-mile training week or simply getting in two solid power walks per week, maintaining fitness requires balancing our workouts with the rest of our lives. As a coach, mother, marathoner, and life-long bipolar patient, here are some tips that I’ve found to be helpful in maintaining a flexible balance between training commitments and the many other valuable pieces of life.
Before you take any other measure to effectively fit your training into your life, consider how important it is to you along with the state of your mental health at the time. A good starting point here is to identify the people and activities in your typical day/week that are non-negotiable priorities for you, and then start to schedule in your training sessions around them.
Next, you can identify activities in your typical day/week that aren’t as important as your training time, so you can cut back on or eliminate them so that you’re working from a realistic start point. Remember with this step to keep yourself as a top priority as well. The time that you devote to your training or workouts may increase your overall physical and mental health, confidence, and vitality. All of which can ripple out to many other areas in your life.
Create a Schedule
With your priorities in order, you can now plan your training week on Sunday nights and commit to being both flexible and creative with its implementation. It may be easy for example to run interval laps around the soccer field while your kids are at practice. Just remember to take at least one complete day off from training every week so that you have the option to spend that day with the people/events/activities that are valuable to you, along with building in some quiet self-reflection and self-care time.
Create an Understanding with Your Family/Friends
Time spent training can be a major conflict issue with family members and/or friends. As with most potential sources of conflict, communication and compromise often help to minimize resentment or misunderstanding. Discussing your training plans/racing schedule pre-season with family members or friends gives everyone a chance to air their concerns and for all to come up with creative solutions where everyone will benefit. Planning out family vacations around a ‘Destination Race’ that appeals to all for example or starting a tradition of Sunday breakfast out together after a weekend training session can often create some positive traditions and support.
Take a Life Stage or a Seasonal Approach
We all have different priorities at different stages of our lives, so it can be helpful to look at the big picture and plan your athletic goals accordingly. Do a reality check every month or so by revisiting your goals and asking how they’re working with the current stage of your life and with the current status of your mental health. Correct and redirect as needed.
Stay Flexible with Vacations and Travel
Although travel and vacations may not be in the mix for several months for many of us right now, when the time is right again, we want to be ready. Armed with proper planning, discipline, and a flexible attitude, it’s possible to enjoy vacations or deal with business travel without losing your training momentum. Think of travel as a running/walking opportunity gained, by looking at it as a chance to explore your new environment. You can contact the hotel desk for safe routes, or if it’s difficult or unsafe to run outside, hit the Fitness Center with cardio or cross-training sessions that will simulate your planned workouts. Again, early communication with family members/friends is key if vacationing, so everyone can plan their day and meet up together at a designated time.
Consider the Triangle of LIfe
To keep your training in perspective, think about this triangle: The physical side of your life (body), the intellectual and/or career side (mind), and the spiritual and emotional side (mind, heart and soul). Any time that you put too much emphasis on any one side of the triangle, the other sides are negatively affected. I like to think of balance, not as a static, measured perfect point, but rather as a variable that constantly shifts with our lives and is a state of constant flux. Balance becomes more about being able to align the changing pieces of our triangle in a way that we and the important people in our lives can feel strong, healthy, and cared for at any given time.
Balance then, seems to be an essential characteristic of effective training as well as of a healthy lifestyle. (A double bonus!) …And although we may have an extra layer of challenges while dealing daily to maintain or seek treatment for our mental health, it may help whenever we’re struggling to keep the two going in sync, to give some thought to these wise words…
“Living a balanced life can mean learning some and thinking some, And draw and painting some, And singing and dancing and playing and working some every day.” ~ Robert Fulghum, Author ~