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How to recover from a bad mental health day

How to recover from a bad mental health day |

By: Jenny Swanson, LICSW

Bad days can vary for everyone. It can mean a hundred different things when your day, your ride or a show did not go as planned. For me, it is typically when I circle.

Due to work and scheduling, I cannot compete on the circuit consistently like I used to. Just three short days before writing this, it was my first time back in the show ring in 3 months. I had a chance to practice with my mare the weeks before and had felt really good going into the show ring that day. Knowingly a tad nervous, I did my pre show routine and tried my best to be in the best head space possible.

And you can probably guess, by the title of this blog post - it did not go well! And no, it was not like I got a bad distance into a line and had to pull up because I was on the half stride. I couldn't even get over the first jump. I circled twice before I could even give myself a chance to jump the course.

Now what I know from my personal experience with anxiety and depression is that sometimes there is no one reason or single stressor to cause a day to go ary. Sometimes, it just happens. Agonizing over the why can oftentimes leave you with more negative thoughts and anxiety about various situations than when you started. Sometimes it is just easier to say “it is what it is” and handle how you are currently feeling rather than racking your brain for answers.

I felt embarrassed, disappointed, angry at myself - ALL of the feelings!

So what did I do next?

The usual when you come out of the ring, talk to my trainer, give my horse all the cookies and square things off as one does. I have found that for me, when a trainer or someone asks “what happened?” RIGHT after it happens, I have no words. It takes me time to gather my words and thoughts and put them into complete sentences. So I politely said “I need a minute, can we chat back at the barn later?”

Here’s what I did next:

  • I turned on some music in my car and started to name every emotion I was feeling. I acknowledged it all.

  • I had A LOT of negative thoughts running through my head. Once I was no longer driving, I wrote them down. If you don’t have a pen and paper, use the notes app on your phone.

  • I knew I needed time by myself to understand what I needed to do next. I drove around listening to some music and just tried to understand what was happening in my head and in my body.

  • I made a quick stop for coffee, being from Boston I can never turn down Dunkin’! And I wanted to cheer myself up.

  • The coffee was the first step in changing my self hatred to self compassion. I acknowledged how hard it is to ride horses and to start showing again after a long break. It is okay to be nervous!

  • I watched an old video of myself and reminded myself of some of the biggest and hardest courses I have ever jumped. I told myself I could do it over and over again.

  • I went back to my why. Why do I ride horses and compete in this crazy event we call show jumping? Because I adore my horse. I love horses. So I went back to the barn and helped out. I spent time with my horse, cleaned my tack and practiced staying present. Being in the moment is all we have control over at any given time.

  • After I started feeling more centered, I chatted with my trainer and just acknowledged how nervous I was and how I felt like I just needed to spend more time in the ring. I needed some practice showing!

  • I was able to forgive myself and make a plan for the next day that was reassuring toward my nerves.

Normalize it.

Oftentimes we sugar coat things or say “just not my day” to deflect when talking to others. It IS a competition and we are often scared to show weakness or nervousness.

Though it can be a great and useful strategy for some (responding to others with a deflecting statement), my purpose in writing this blog is to normalize these “out of control” feelings. These feelings that so many of us have felt and are not talked about.

My purpose was to detail my experience(s) and offer insight into how I deal with it. It is not a “one size fits all” for my own solutions and resolutions for bad days but if I can help at least one person feel a little less alienated, then I call that a success!

The next day I went into the show ring and jumped a clear round. I was so proud of myself!

Remember: Just because you are nervous, you struggle with anxiety or you are having a bad day does NOT mean you cannot be successful.

Keep going!

Jenny Swanson, LICSW

Phone: 508-494-1555

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