Olivia Smoliga walked out on deck on the 2019 World Aquatics Championships, regarded up on the crowd, and felt the nerves hit. It was unusual — she’d swam in entrance of giant crowds earlier than, together with on the Rio 2016 Olympics, the place she gained a gold within the 4×100 medley relay. However for some cause, it hit otherwise that day in Gwangju, South Korea. “Simply this pointless stress,” she remembered.
Just a few days later, Smoliga earned her first ever long-course world championship medal, a bronze within the 100 meter backstroke. Regardless of her triumph, anxious ideas rushed by means of her head throughout and after the race. “It was simply concern of wanting to complete the race effectively, desirous to medal,” she mentioned. “Simply this overwhelming anxiousness.”
Smoliga had handled anxiousness throughout competitions earlier than, together with on the Olympics, however what finally made these 2019 Worlds stand out was how she adjusted in time for her 50-meter backstroke race three days later. “I needed to simply calm my thoughts down” and loosen up, she remembered. “I needed to type of study on the fly.” It labored. Smoliga gained gold within the 50m again, her first world championship title.
What modified in these three days? Smoliga, 26, mentioned it was a realization: that she’ll all the time expertise negativity, whether or not it comes from inside or exterior of her thoughts. “It is the way you reply to it,” she mentioned, “the way you’re capable of type of transmute it into one thing optimistic.”
For Smoliga, who’s now making ready for the 2021 Olympic Trials, this revelation was simply the beginning of her psychological well being journey. Over the previous 12 months, the swimmer has fallen in love with meditation, which she credit with quieting her anxious ideas and enhancing her confidence and compassion. She began out meditating just a few occasions every week final 12 months, however slowly realized that wasn’t sufficient; the “added consciousness” she acquired from meditation made her understand what number of detrimental and unhelpful ideas cluttered up her thoughts when she acquired away from the observe. It is like letting emails pile up in your inbox, she mentioned: a psychological backlog.
Now Smoliga meditates each day, utilizing an app known as Stoic. “You simply type of movement quite a bit simpler by means of life. You aren’t getting caught up as straightforward,” she mentioned. “I am nonetheless studying. I am nonetheless rising.”
“I am nonetheless studying. I am nonetheless rising.”
Since then, the Tokyo hopeful has continued including instruments to her psychological well being routine. She reads books about psychological well being and wellbeing, takes Epsom salt baths, and journals. “Journaling I feel is large,” she mentioned. “Should you put your ideas to paper, it is very highly effective.” She stretches, not simply to work out soreness however as a “checkup for my physique.” Engaged on her psychological well being so constantly, Smoliga mentioned, is like training a swimming stroke time and again. “I get higher each day.”
And that is necessary, as a result of for athletes, Smoliga believes good psychological well being is as important as bodily potential. “I’d argue that it is an important factor,” she mentioned. “If you’re capable of be ready mentally for any excessive stress scenario . . . while you’re capable of be like, ‘I acquired this and it is going to be okay, every thing goes to occur the way it’s meant to occur, as a result of I consider that it could occur the way in which that I’ve envisioned it’ — I feel that is so highly effective.”