Michael Phelps said he is teaching his kids his mental health ‘playbook’

  • Michael Phelps said he spent years suppressing his feelings, to the detriment of his mental health.
  • Now she is teaching her children how to express themselves and talk about emotions in a healthy way.
  • Phelps said men, and especially athletes, often face stigma for being vulnerable.

Michael Phelps holds the all-time record for Olympic golds, earning 23 top-level victories for his legendary pool prowess, but said he’d have even more medals if avoiding his feelings was a competitive sport.

Now, as a retired athlete and father of three, Phelps said he’s trying to stop his kids from making the same mistakes.

“I’m excited to pass on my handbook of things I did well and things I could have done better,” Phelps told Insider in an interview about his partnership with online behavioral health company Talkspace.

His sons Boomer (6), Beckett (4) and Maverick (3) have shown an interest in sports, but Phelps points out that they are developing strategies for mental well-being as much as physical fitness.

“If you do both, you basically become a superhero,” he said.

He said teens are learning to talk about their feelings, find ways to calm down under stress, and communicate their emotions in healthy ways.

“I wish they were able to express what they’re going through and not put things down. So far, we’re seeing that from our older two, and our youngest is learning, partly by watching his siblings,” Phelps said.

Expressing your feelings is the key to good mental health

One of the most important things Phelps is emphasizing with his teens is avoiding compartmentalization, suppressing thoughts and feelings that are difficult or uncomfortable to deal with.

“If one of my kids’ feelings gets hurt, we give them a moment to calm down, then we talk to them about what they’re feeling and why, and that’s really important,” she said.

Phelps said that for him, going to therapy and journaling regularly helped him tune in to his emotions after more than a decade of avoiding them.

“I think it’s important to put things on paper rather than hold on to them. I’m able to go back to neutral if I find myself spiraling, and it’s based on the work I’ve done over the past 8 years,” he said.

A technique called “Lion’s Breath” is helpful for calming down in a stressful time

It can often be difficult to talk about feelings in the heat of the moment, like when her kids get into a fight, so it’s important to find a way to calm down first, according to Phelps.

She uses a yoga technique known as lion’s breath with her children, which involves taking a deep breath and roaring to release tension, anger, or anxiety.

“When they’re really frustrated, they can do that, and then they’re able to express what happened,” Phelps said.

Research suggests that deep breathing techniques can help reduce stress in both children and adults.

Men often face stigma for showing emotion

Phelps said it’s especially important for her children to speak up because gender stereotypes can push men and boys to ignore their own feelings.

“For me, as a male athlete, in my career I thought it would be a sign of weakness to open up about mental health,” he said. “Now it’s the exact opposite, and it’s saved lives.”

Other high-profile sportspeople are speaking up, too: Lebron James has spoken out on the importance of men showing emotion, and athletes like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have opened up about mental health issues.

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