Everyone has their own story to tell when it comes to mental health.
There’s no easy way to explain its trials and tribulations, the challenges one faces through the struggles of improving it. Mental illness does not discriminate; it can weave itself into the fabric of your favorite celebrity, professional athlete, family member or best friend.
As one in five adults in the United States experience a type of mental illness, the month of May, deemed Mental Health Month, looks to bring this reality to the forefront of people’s minds.
Since 1949, organizations like Mental Health America (MHA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Council for Behavioral Health, come together this month to support the stories of those affected by mental illness and spread awareness on helpful tools that can be used by those looking to improve or strengthen their mental health. Many entities take on a theme throughout May, including MHA, who chose “Tools2Thrive" as theirs. According to their website, they believe providing practical tools is needed now more than ever, especially during a global pandemic.
It’s a turning point in the conversation, as a way to educate people on the different tools one may use as part of a daily routine. For fans and amateurs alike, playing golf is often looked upon as an outlet for exercise, self-reflection and focus in terms of strengthening mental health. But what is there for professional golfers? The mentality it takes to compete on a weekly basis against the best in the world suddenly takes the battle from within the confides of a course to the brain, and sometimes it’s the mental game that perseveres through the toughest of competitive times.
As a tool for LPGA and PGA Tour players, it isn’t abnormal for a sports psychologist to be a present member of a golfer’s team. Many prominent players take this route to be at their mentally best during their careers. For veteran players like Alena Sharp, continuously strengthening one’s mental game and health is essential.
“Mental health is extremely important to me both on and off the course. I’m not sure it’s sustainable to play well week in and week out when you aren’t happy with yourself,” said Sharp. “Meditation has become part of my life and it has helped me to slow down a bit. It’s given me more peace.”
As a Player Director on the LPGA Tour’s Board of Directors, she is a role model for younger players, especially to those from her native country of Canada.
“I enjoy being a mentor for the younger Canadian players,” said Sharp. “I enjoy talking with them and doing my best to give them advice when I can.”
Sharp said one of the best pieces of advice she’s gotten to help her golf mental game improved is simple. “It’s so important to be present. Be in the now and the process,” said Sharp. “If you are in the present you aren’t focused on results either from the hole before or the holes to come in the future.”
A tool she uses daily is Headspace. Since 2019, the online company has been the official mental training provider for the LPGA, for athletes in and outside the clubhouse. It’s a tool Sharp has used since 2017, when looking to overcome a bit of depression. Now, Headspace is a consistent part of her life.
“I used it daily and still do, usually on the way to the course to get present and slow my thoughts. I also use it every night to go to sleep. It’s a ritual now,” said Sharp. “Sticking to my routine of using headspace while en route to the course is a must. I get a little anxiety if I can’t use it. I have been using it for so long that it’s just part of my routine now.”
Tiffany Chan also utilizes the app to help in her day-to-day life as well. In 2019, Chan told the South China Morning Post that she uses Headspace to help her meditate the night before and the morning of tournament play to put her mind at ease.
“I try not to control my emotions but feel them…I try not to control my bad emotions or thinking, but to understand them better,” Chan told the paper.
As the Tour has been on hiatus, Sharp said she’s also been working out, running and mountain biking as stress relievers, ones she says help immensely during the COVID-19 pandemic. She still uses Headspace to be more in touch with her mindfulness during this time.
“When I use Headspace I just feel more relaxed and my mind is a bit quieter,” said Sharp.”
As the month of May comes to an end, mental health awareness does not. Mental Health Month only amplifies the voices of many around the world, whether you swing a club or work from home.
To learn more about MHA’s Tool2Thrive campaign, click here: https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month