Mayo footballer Tommy Conroy is encouraging young people to talk to their parents or an adult they trust in order to help cope with worry and stress and to improve their mental health.
The 21 year-old from Cong says that he finds talking to his parents about his problems ‘lifts a weight off his shoulders’ and admits that ‘certain things can bother you if you keep them to yourself’.
The 2020 ‘Young Footballer of the Year’ nominee was speaking at the launch of Mindspace Mayo’s ‘Talking About Mental Health Is The Game Changer’ campaign last week.
Mindspace have been chosen as Mayo GAA’s charity partner for 2021.
“Anytime I’d be in a difficult spot, I find that talking to someone helps a lot,” explained Tommy, who plays his club football with The Neale.
“You’d always find that even if there’s a small thing bothering you, if you keep it to yourself it just gets bigger and bigger. That could be as simple as balancing college with football, that can get stressful at times. Maybe it’s the pressure of exams or being disappointed with team selection. Those things can bother you if you keep them to yourself.
“But the second you talk to someone, and share those worries, you’d feel a weight off your shoulders.”
Having ‘One Good Adult’ in a young person’s life has been shown to help promote and support positive mental health. Tommy Conroy explains that his parents have always been good listeners who show empathy and ‘have always been very supportive’.
“Any time I ever have a problem I’d go to them. It’s always good to have at least one good adult in your life that you can turn to because they have more life experience and it definitely helps.”
Conroy is a third year science student at NUI, Galway but has been studying from home and attending lectures online since Covid-19 hit more than a year ago.
He admits that the lack of socialisation with his friends was ‘very difficult’ in the early stages but he has established a number of routines and good habits that have helped him to mind his mental health and stay positive.
This included taking up a new hobby — fishing.
“I started getting into new things. This time last year I started doing a lot of fishing,” he explained.
“We have a boat and I used to do a bit when I was smaller, but I never got into it. I was always too impatient for it. Then I took it up one evening last summer and I couldn’t get enough of it.
“I go out on the Corrib or down the river. Sometimes on my own, sometimes with dad, and a few friends got into it as well. Even when I went back playing football, I found that when I went out fishing I forgot about everything. It’s just so relaxing.
“I also started listening to different podcasts last year. There’s one — ‘Feel Better, Live More’ — that’s about feeling better about yourself, and being positive. Because there’s so much negativity about Covid cases and variants going around… I find it good to listen to some positive stuff to keep you in a positive mindset.”
Conroy, who made his senior championship debut with Mayo last year and was nominated for the ‘Young Footballer of the Year’ award, also places a big emphasis on sleep, exercise, nutrition and routine in order to maintain his mental health.
“I’d put sleep at the top of the list. I’d always trying and get eight hours plus,” he said. “I’d aim to get to bed around 11pm or 11.30pm and be up around 8.30am or 9am. If I only got seven hours sleep, I’d know straight away.”
“Routine is very important too for me. During the first lockdown I didn’t have any routine, and I found it difficult. But I started to get into a routine after a few weeks and I felt a lot better.”
“In terms of mental health, exercise is probably the most important thing you can do to help with it.”
“If I go back to the first lockdown, when things were tough mentally, when i’d go down and go for a walk in the woods, or do a running session, it’s amazing how much better you’d feel about things and about yourself afterwards.”
“You can relax and refocus by going for a walk, I find it changes your mood.”
“The odd time I would do breathing exercises as well,” he continued. “You just take 10-second breaths, in and out, for a minute. It calms you down straight away.
“I remember studying for exams once, I was feeling a bit stressed, and then a reminder came up on my phone about the breathing exercises. As soon I did them I felt better. Similar to reaching out to someone for help, taking a few deep breaths takes a weight off your shoulders.”