Peloton’s Kendall Toole Shares Her 8 Best Tips for Getting Through a Tough Mental Health Day
The weekend after Peloton instructor Kendall Toole led a Mental Health Awareness cycling class that has since been viewed over 100,000 times and spurred an important dialogue about depression and anxiety, she experienced what she calls a “really tough mental health day.”
“And this was in the midst of talking about mental health—you never know when you’re going to get served that day,” she told SELF the following week. “You control the controllable. You do what you can with where you’re at; you can’t expect yourself to be at your best every single day.”
Toole likens life’s daily emotional roller coaster to the bursts of intense work and recovery programmed into that popular May 10 class: “You have the highs and lows, and neutral is the goal,” she says. “If you can stay around neutral, that’s a good day.”
Toole, who was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) at age 11 and with depression and anxiety as a college student, says she has plenty of good days. But after recovering from suicidal thoughts during her senior year at the University of Southern California and dedicating years to bolstering her mental health through therapy, education, and other tools, she’s come to accept that keeping her head above water takes constant effort.
“I learned mental health is not a check mark, it’s a day-to-day lifelong commitment,” she says.
After years of introspection and dedicated work through regular ongoing therapy, Toole now shares her victories and struggles in her Instagram Live series, Chats on the Green. She’s grateful for the “incredible platform” Peloton has given her, but its recent enormous growth also means she’s had to navigate some of the tougher parts of being a public figure.
“When we hear something negative, our minds tend to latch onto that and our egos decide that one negative thing is more valuable than the other 20 positive things people have said,” she says. “And it gets very challenging.”
But Toole, a lifelong athlete who first discovered the beneficial mental-health effects of movement through boxing, says she’s learning to roll with the punches of online trolls.
Aside from carefully selecting what she pays attention to on social media—both in terms of the accounts she follows and the number of comments she reads on her own content—Toole, an ambassador for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), has found plenty of other ways to keep her mental health in check, even on her hard days. Here are eight of the tactics she relies on regularly.
1. Breathing in (and then doing it again)
Anyone who’s ever taken one of Toole’s cycling or strength classes (she recently started teaching Pilates) knows that she starts almost every session with a signature “double inhale.” She instructs her students to breathe in deeply and then inhale once more at the top before exhaling, which can help promote a more relaxed, less on-edge state. “I notice that when I start to get overwhelmed, the two inhales and one exhale is key,” she says. “It’s really about controlling the controllable.” Just as she often encourages students to release their death grip on the bike’s handlebars, Toole recommends the double inhale at the start of class or during any moment of panic in order to ground, recenter, and move forward through challenges as calmly as possible.
2. Setting a timer for her negative thoughts
Another trick Toole has cultivated over the years revolves around timing—specifically the number of minutes she allows herself to indulge in ruminations and repetitive thoughts.
“A technique I learned when I first went to therapy for OCD is to have a sand timer,” she says. “You can get a one-minute one, but I like the three-minute one because I feel like it’s the perfect amount of time. I turn the timer over and for three minutes, as a means of accepting what I’m going through and facing the emotion and how it’s affecting me, I ruminate and allow myself to feel all the scary thoughts just for as long as the sand collects in the timer. Once the timer runs out, I tell myself, You’ve thought all you can think. You’re done now.”
Toole grants herself grace if the negative feelings creep in again. “If that intrusive thought or emotion comes up later, I acknowledge it and tell myself, If you need to, you can spend one more minute.”
Toole travels with her timer and even brings it to the Peloton studio on particularly stressful days. “Or if I don’t have one, I’ll set a timer on my phone and I’ll give myself three minutes.”
3. Taking a self-scan
While breathing techniques have been shown to effectively calm the body’s stress response, sometimes you have to call in reinforcements. “If the breath ain’t cutting it, I close my eyes, get on the floor, sit crisscross or lay down, and scan from my toes all the way to the top of my head and acknowledge the sounds around me,” Toole says, describing a type of meditation known as a body scan, which involves mindfully assessing the sensations you feel. She’s a huge fan of Dan Harris, the host of the Ten Percent Happier podcast, who’s also a big proponent of it.
4. Recognizing that her feelings aren’t facts
All of us have a running monologue in our brains, but sitting alone with repeated, intrusive thoughts can make it difficult to discern which thoughts are rooted in reality and which are false narratives spurring negativity. And teasing out one from the other is a skill Toole has had to develop over time.
“A huge game changer for me was when I realized I didn’t have to believe everything I was thinking and that everything my brain thought wasn’t necessarily truthful,” she says. “That was eye-opening.”
In some cases, getting grounded in the present moment can help create a separation from the constant chatter in your head and help you take a step back to separate reality from fiction. Try Toole’s double-inhale breathing technique, pull out a journal to document your thoughts, take a long walk, or try a slow flow yoga class to get out of your head and into your body.
5. Focusing on what her body can do
Toole has developed a plan of action for combating negative self-talk when body image issues filter in. “Whenever I start to ruminate about different aspects of my figure, I make an effort to hold that piece of my body,” she says. That means if she’s feeling less than positive about her quads, for instance, she’ll hold her legs in front of the mirror, and tell them they’re beautiful, they’re strong, and they do much for her. “I think about all the wonderful things that they provide for me, and it helps me turn a corner,” she says. “I highly recommend that, especially as all this ‘hot girl summer’ bullshit starts—it’s like, listen: Our bodies got us through a pandemic, we’re here. That’s enough. We’re good.”
6. Using music to go back to a mood she wants to revisit
Toole chooses her soundtrack to tune into what she needs at the moment—some days she wants to switch up a low mood, and sometimes she feels it’s more productive to lean into it with emotionally charged tracks. It’s all about choosing a playlist that takes her to where she wants to be.
For instance, when she’s missing the California sun, she puts on the Big Wild, which also makes her think about her boyfriend. “It’s effervescent and euphoric at the same time,” she says.
Toole calls her playlists, which she says she has for every mood, cathartic.
“I have ones for when I’m feeling mellow, feeling grateful, when I need to feel energetic, when I’m feeling silly and want to run around my house. I have one for when I’m sad or grieving something,” she says. “It’s really just about curating music to create a space for me to feel whatever I need to feel at that point.”
7. Rediscovering her curious side
When the everyday grind gets overwhelming, Toole believes in the power of creative exploration and straight-up playtime to occupy her mind. “Become curious again,” she says. “A big thing we forget is that when we were kids, we used to play pretend—we’d go outside, fight battles, be pop stars. When in doubt, create.”
For her, this can mean painting a pair of Vans, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, making friendship bracelets, or taking up knitting. “There’s nothing better than putting on some music and saying, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do a DIY project. I’m gonna make that wreath I saw on Pinterest, and if it looks like shit, it looks like shit!’”
Trying out this tip doesn’t have to entail the actual lift of taking on new projects, which can be difficult for those who may not have the time or bandwidth to do that right now. If that’s the case for you, don’t pressure yourself to take on more than you can handle for the sake of curiosity and creativity. Instead, see if you can rethink what creative exploration looks like to you and try to find smaller ways to incorporate it into your life.
8. Moving mindfully through it
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toole has found movement to be one of the most effective maneuvers for getting through a difficult mental health day. But she’s also aware that exercise can have its own addictive qualities, and she’s careful to keep an eye on her motivation for working out.
“When I start to get to a place where I’m no longer working out because it makes me feel great or strong and I start working out because I don’t like the way this looks or I start to get nitpicky about a certain thing about my body, that’s the alert button for me,” she says. “It’s like, Okay, you’re using this as a crutch for something you’re not healing within yourself; you’re distracting yourself instead of empowering yourself.” It all goes back to that scarcity vs. abundance mentalities, she says—focusing on what you’re gaining by moving your body, not with what you can be losing (i.e., weight or inches).
With all that in mind, Toole turns to whatever form of movement she feels will feed her spirit on days that feel especially dark—and more often than not, it’s not about those high-intensity interval sessions.
“Do any form of movement you find enjoyable,” she says. “Yoga is lovely, Pilates is helpful. I just did a recovery ride that was full of happy, feel-good songs. Do some form of movement you can commit to for 10 minutes. Go outside and walk around the block or do 10 minutes of stretching or do something silly like cartwheels or somersaults.” Don’t be afraid to look silly to give your body—and mind—what you need.
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