Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman on Overcoming Trauma and Feeling Healthy Today: ‘I’m Just Really Excited to Take Care of Myself’
"For people who have experienced trauma ... it's exhausting," Aly Raisman says. Here's how this six-time Olympic medal gymnast has learned to manage stress.
Leadership comes naturally to Aly Raisman, who rose to fame winning six Olympic medals and captaining both the 2012 and 2016 women’s USA gymnastics teams. Still, this competitor never intended to become one of the faces of mental health. Since coming forward in 2017 as one of the USA Gymnastics team members who was abused by their former team physician, Larry Nassar, Raisman has put her mental wellness first…and become a national symbol of strength in the process.
Recently, Aly Raisman was diagnosed with migraines and today is using her platform to spread awareness about the wide-ranging symptoms (she told us often experiences nausea) and partnering with UBRELVY, a prescription medication that treats acute migraine attacks that she’s found helpful.
For Raisman, 29, anxiety and stress are often triggers—so it’s important for her to keep them at bay. In a recent conversation with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest, Raisman told us she’s found that mental health support can be anything from talk therapy and meditation to watching something funny on Netflix and snuggling with her dog. Since retiring from professional gymnastics in 2020, Raisman’s life off the floor looks a lot different: More gardening, less sugar. One thing for sure: Aly Raisman makes a priority of feeling good.
Aly Raisman on her migraine journey
The Healthy @Readers Digest: You shared recently that you’ve dealt with the debilitating symptoms of migraine for most of your adult life. People might find this surprising because it can be so hard to function, let alone perform at the highest level, with a headache.
Aly Raisman: I believe I’ve had migraines for a very long time, but I actually wasn’t diagnosed with migraine until more recently. I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to learn more about what migraine is and what my migraine symptoms and triggers look like, and I’m just really grateful that I found a treatment plan that works for me. I met with a neurologist, and he prescribed me UBRELVY, which has been extremely helpful for me … and in a short period of time I feel relief from my migraine pain. It’s just been so helpful for me because before I had a treatment plan that worked for me, I didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t have a diagnosis either—which was really stressful and scary. I wasn’t understanding why I wasn’t feeling well.
The Healthy: When did your migraines start, and did you find a connection between the stress of being a professional athlete part of what triggered it?
Aly Raisman: For me personally, I have noticed that when I am more anxious and stressed, I personally do find that I get migraine attacks more frequently. I just encourage anybody who is not feeling well or thinks they might have a migraine to talk to their doctor.
How Aly Raisman eases migraine pain
The Healthy: What other self-care rituals do you practice to take care of yourself or help when you’re experiencing migraines?
Raisman: I can speak to what I do to take care of my mental health. I would say gardening has been very helpful for me. Being able to spend time with my dog, taking Milo to the dog park, reading, spending time with friends and family. I also do some guided meditations and that’s been really helpful, too. I’ve found that taking care of my mental health is very important and it’s something that I am trying to incorporate every single day. I’ve also found that stretching and walking outside and doing yoga has also been really helpful.
Aly Raisman’s health & wellness routines
The Healthy: How has your nutrition and fitness routine changed since you were competing, and what does it look like now that you’re not in training?
Raisman: Now that I’ve gotten older, I feel like I eat healthier than I did when I was training. I think when I was younger, I probably thought that I was eating healthier, but I think there’s a lot more research now and I’ve learned a lot more. We have so much more access to podcasts and so many different things that I listen to, or books that I’m reading. I also feel like I have more time and more energy to look into these areas than I did when I was training. I would say I try really hard to not to have a lot of sugar. Of course, if I’m going out to dinner and I want dessert, I’m going to have dessert. I think balance is so important. But I think on a daily basis I’ve found that not having a lot of sugar has also helped me feel better. Not only do I personally feel like I have less anxiety when I eat less sugar, I also just feel better and have more energy. I really try to eat a lot of whole foods, a lot of vegetables, and get outside. Eating food from my garden brings me a lot of joy as well.
The Healthy: What does your life look like now?
Raisman: I think my life is very different than it was a few years ago. I definitely think I’m finally figuring out work-life balance. When I was training, I feel like I had the same schedule every single day and I think now my days are often not the same, but I’m really prioritizing my personal life. I think for my whole life I’ve prioritized my gymnastics career and then my professional life and my business career. Now I think that of course that is still important to me and there’s a lot of things that I am passionate about, but this summer I’m just excited to really take care of myself and prioritize my personal life and do things that fill my cup and make me happy. I feel like my garden is really thriving right now, so that makes me very excited. I try to spend time gardening and I’m trying to walk a lot, experiment with different workouts, learn to cook and just kind of try to have fun and try new things.
Aly Raisman on self-care
The Healthy: We talk a lot about mental health on the site, which you’ve been outspoken about, especially after the 2018 trial. Trauma and mental health in general have become normalized, thanks to so many people speaking about this. What have you found helped you the most during that stressful time?
Raisman: I don’t necessarily think that there’s just one thing that helps me. I think taking it day by day and recognizing there might be some months where maybe talking to my friends is helpful. I’ve consistently been in therapy, but I think there are times when therapy has been super helpful and other times when I feel like maybe what I need is just more gardening or reading, and I have to take my mind off of it. I think it really depends, and I personally have let go of this idea that it’s going to be one thing that fixes everything, and recognizing it’s a journey and it’s always evolving and changing, and being able to meet myself day by day. Sometimes I think talk therapy is so important, but I also think that I’m finding balance.
The Healthy: That’s so important.
Raisman: Sometimes when I’m really stressed, just watching Netflix [helps]. I know that might be the wrong answer, but sometimes I think for people who’ve experienced trauma or have a lot of anxiety, finding things, whatever it is that can get you out of your head and relax you. I think there is so much shame in our society of like, “Oh my God, you were watching TV all day on the couch?” I think sometimes for people who have experienced trauma, first of all, it’s exhausting, and just because someone experienced trauma maybe 10 years ago, they still could be living it every single day of their life. It’s important to give people permission. If you are exhausted one day, and you just want to relax and watch something that makes you laugh or takes your mind off of it, I think that’s really important. It’s just important to meet yourself where you’re at and give yourself a break. It’s important to talk about things and work through it, but you have to go at a pace that feels right for you. If you don’t feel you’re in a place to talk about it and you don’t feel like you ever want to, that’s also OK as well. Just take it day by day and find what works for you and just makes you happy. Live your life for you.
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This interview has been edited for length.