Tuesday 25 April 2017

Former Ireland rugby star Alan Quinlan on his struggle with anxiety: 'Seeking help is a sign of strength - not a weakness'

He has struggled with maintaining mental fitness, but former rugby star Alan Quinlan says balance is key

Respected pundit Alan Quinlan
Respected pundit Alan Quinlan

Anyone can suffer from mental or emotional health problems - and, over a lifetime, most of us will.

Most of us ignore the emotional messages that tell us something is wrong and try to tough it out by ourselves, in the hope that things will eventually get better on their own.

Seeking help is a sign of strength - not a weakness. We all need help and support from time to time.

I've struggled with maintaining my mental fitness, and what I have learnt over the years is that you have to be kind to yourself.

Star player: Alan Quinlan in action for Ireland in 1999.
Star player: Alan Quinlan in action for Ireland in 1999.

Doing the right things in terms of your physical health is a key part of addressing concerns with mental well-being. It might sound like a cliche, but a healthy body does equal a healthy mind.

How you look after yourself is very important. The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you'll experience greater mental and emotional well-being.

Having spent many years as a professional rugby player with both the Munster and Irish squad, I have learnt that my health is a top priority. To be at the top of my game, I had to be physically strong, fit and be mindful of my diet and nutrition. It went with the nature of the job.

Now, five years after retiring, I still try to be as healthy as I can, and I believe exercise and diet play a key part in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Alan Quinlan and his son AJ (now seven).
Alan Quinlan and his son AJ (now seven).

I'm an anxious person, and exercise is a big part of how I manage stress and emotions. Exercise is good for your body, but it's great for your mind, too. It releases endorphins: powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy. It can relieve stress, improve memory, and boost your self-esteem, help you concentrate, as well as sleep, look and feel better.

Being active doesn't have to be expensive. It's something that you can do for free. The key is to move as much as you can, whenever you can.

Working as a professional rugby player, nutrition and well-being were part and parcel of our workplace. I've tried to maintain a healthy diet since I left professional rugby, but it isn't always easy, especially during tournaments like the Six Nations. The days are long and the schedule can be erratic, so eating healthily can slip by the wayside. There is always the temptation to eat badly and overindulge after a long, hard day. A combination of poor nutrition and high stress can make for a tired and unhealthy person.

It's important to remember that food is fuel, and the kinds of foods and drinks you consume determine the types of nutrients in your system, and impact on how well your mind and body are able to function. The old phrase 'you are what you eat' really rings true.

Alan Quinlan after Ireland’s defeat in 2004 in Bloemfontein Picture: SPORTSFILE
Alan Quinlan after Ireland’s defeat in 2004 in Bloemfontein Picture: SPORTSFILE

It's all about balance. Healthy eating is not about depriving yourself. Think of your diet in terms of colour, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods, and opt for more fresh ingredients. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates can help to improve your mood and lower your risk for mental-health problems.

When you're busy, it may seem like there just aren't enough hours in the day. But when it comes to your mental health, getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness and ability to handle stress.

Balancing the demands of a busy lifestyle is not an easy thing to do. When you are always on the go, it can be difficult to find the time to look after yourself.

It's important for you to remember to make your personal wellness a priority, and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Your mind and your health are worth it.

Former rugby player Alan Quinlan is Aramark's Healthy for Life ambassador
Former rugby player Alan Quinlan is Aramark's Healthy for Life ambassador

Former Munster and Ireland rugby player Alan Quinlan is Aramark's Healthy for Life ambassador

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