“We Are All Running from Something:” Marathoner Molly Seidel On ADHD & Self-Care
“I think a lot of people assume that I’m a lot more naturally talented than I actually am at this sport. I’m really not,” she said. “It’s the consistent, day in, day out work that you do — that has translated exactly into my mental health, my realizing that it’s OK that I’m going to have to work at this every day,”
“I see a lot of women who probably have undiagnosed ADHD in this sport because we all gravitate toward this… and find that the repetition and structure of running works,” said Olympic marathon medalist Molly Seidel during her recent conversation with WebMD about barriers to mental health care for women. “A lot of people in elite sports, I think, do have something going on… Yeah, we’re all running from something.” (Seidel may be on to something, as some research suggests that ADHD may actually be more common in elite athletes than it is in the general population.)
For Seidel, that something is a late-life diagnosis of ADHD, along with comorbid obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders.
“This Is Never Going to Get Easier. And That’s OK.”
It took Seidel years, and a lot of work, to figure out how to manage her conditions, and to find the self-care systems and strategies that are most beneficial for her. She likens this work to her training as a runner, and emphasizes that both are ongoing.
“I think a lot of people assume that I’m a lot more naturally talented than I actually am at this sport. I’m really not,” she said, emphasizing that her success is a product of hard work and dedication. “It’s that consistent, day-to-day work that has translated exactly into my mental health, my realizing that it’s OK that I’m going to have to work at this every day… I also have to wake up every day and brush my teeth, and I’m not expecting that if I brush my teeth enough, I’m never going to have to do it again.”
Seidel’s sharp understanding of herself and what she needs to be at her best every day echoes the advice of Dawn Brown, M.D., a sports psychologist and ADHD specialist who recently hosted the ADDitude webinar, “How to Leverage Sports Psychology to Benefit ADHD Brains:”
“We should adapt to how our brain, our minds are created, meaning we have to find accommodations and strategies that are in line with how our ADHD brains respond to performance and productivity,” Brown said.
Though Seidel has developed effective methods for managing her mental health conditions, she says their impact on her life is far from static. “There are times where these things are very manageable for me,” she shares. “And there are other times when it takes over my entire life.”
Mindfulness and Other Self-Care Strategies
Mindfulness is the lynchpin of Seidel’s daily routine. “I operate on a very high-strung, very over-stimulated level, and I struggle with coming down,” she said. “Being able to decompress, come down from that, [by using] various breathing and calming techniques has been absolutely vital for me. That is something that I have to do every day, multiple times a day.”
Mindfulness, she said, “is about really focusing on lowering the temperature in the system and lowering the breath rate…so that I can come back to almost like a baseline level.”
Mindfulness, like other relaxation techniques, is part of optimal mental performance conditioning — “what great athletes practice,” according to Dr. Brown.
Recovery and Structure Outside the Track
What happens outside her running shoes is just as important for Seidel’s overall mental health and performance, she said.
“I need to have stuff outside that I’m working on,” she said. “Being able to have some sort of structured time and structured assignments is really mentally healthy for me.” Seidel is pursuing an MBA through DeVry University’s Keller School of Management. “It’s nice having something else outside of running to focus on.”
Another important self-care lesson Seidel has learned as a professional athlete: Healing — both physical and mental — is not a luxury, but a necessity. “Recovery is a huge part of my job,” she says. “And I’ve found that it is just enormously helpful for what I do, and for being able to manage not only just life, but a higher level of training.”
Athletes and Self-Care with ADHD: Next Steps
- Read & Watch: “Maybe I’m Not Just Thoroughly Messed Up:” Olympian Molly Seidel On Her Late ADHD Diagnosis
- Read & Watch: “Athletes are Real People with Real Mental Health Issues”
- Webinar: How to Leverage Sports Psychology to Benefit ADHD Brains
- Read: Olympians, Professional Athletes, and Sports Legends with ADHD
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