Tuesday 4 October 2022

Healthy Life, Healthy Mind: Tips from a Professional Footballer

Max is a footballer based in Madrid and 2nd Year University Student. Living so far away from home since 16, he's had many struggles and challenges but always goes back to basics when things aren't going well.

- Max Ogawa

Like everyone, I find it hard to balance being a student with all the distractions of life. But hardest of all is pursuing my dream of playing professional football while being a full-time university student. This is based on my own personal challenges and circumstances but is relevant to any student juggling study with life. I think it reinforces that protecting your mental health is your number one priority, no matter what your course of study or hobbies is. Everyone faces stress while studying. My stress is constant, and my life is much like a roller-coaster with very high “highs” and very low “lows”. So, here’s a list of my absolute essentials for managing the hurly-burly.

Firstly, have a healthy attitude to socializing. I’m putting this first on the list because a recent event at our student residence has put this at the top of the agenda. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t drink or do anything that would compromise my health. But this is also true for anything that would jeopardize my football career, placement at university or visa. The important things that keep me in Spain. It is hard to say no but I’ve had a lot of practice now at bringing a healthy attitude to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. And no, not everyone respects that choice. But frankly, that’s not my problem. Living a healthy lifestyle is important, and not just for the obvious health benefits. You don’t want to risk everything that you’ve worked hard for. You don’t want to risk your future.

I mentioned the event at the residence. Of course, there are some shenanigans when you first move into university. But some people will take it too far. Don’t be that person. A few just have to learn the hard way that the police will get involved and the university will be notified. Here’s my tip: find like-minded people to hang with. This is working for me and means I can still have friends and go out socially without compromising my healthy lifestyle choices. And hey, no judgement on the freshies at the Residence – they are fresh out of high school after all.

Create the ideal sleeping environment again, this ranks very high on my healthy lifestyle list. I cannot function as a student or a footballer without sleep. When I moved to the new residence, I was uncomfortably shocked to discover that in the middle of a scorching hot Madrid summer, there was no aircon! It took two sleepless nights before I bit the bullet and went out to buy a floor fan. My best purchase this year without any exaggeration. Whatever it is in your dorm room or residence that is impacting the quality of your sleep: fix it now. I cannot stress this enough. Understandably, this is harder if you are sharing your room. I’m fortunate to have a private room, but I’ve frequently had to share with up to five other students at different times in my life, so I know what that is like.

Go on a friend-finding mission You can’t spend all your time in your room. If you are doing that it is a sign that you aren’t coping. Likewise, I can’t spend all my time hanging out with the football team. With a new student residence, there’s a whole batch of new people to get to know. Even though I am challenged by being the only non-native Spanish speaker here, this is the best way for me to push outside my comfort zone (and improve my Spanish in the process). Find a group that will do the same for you.

Hardest one of all: healthy eating while living on campus. If you live in a residence, then you are at the mercy of the dining hall. I try to steer myself toward the healthier choices. And, my training schedule is demanding. I finish at 10:30 pm which means I never make it home for dinner and don’t eat until 11:00pm. Thankfully, the dining staff will put my meals aside (it took some negotiation as this didn’t come as standard). They made me agree that if they put a meal aside, I would eat it. Sometimes the club puts on a BBQ or orders burgers, or we go out after training, so those days are challenging in a different way! I did say when I started this post that my daily essentials were basic. But it’s these essentials: keeping to a healthy social life, sleeping well and eating well that keep me going in the right direction day in and day out.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health or supporting a friend, help is available.

I'm sharing from a very personal place.  I’d love to hear how others manage their day-to-day stress. My challenges sometimes feel overwhelming, like when I spend a whole season sitting on the bench, or meeting getting a certain GPA to get into the course I’ve selected. I’ve found some basic coping strategies that I use that others might find surprising.

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