"For me personally, it's been probably the toughest stretch that I've ever gone through," the swimming champion said

By Ashley Boucher
May 18, 2020 07:11 PM
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Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is opening up about his mental health during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, admitting that the past several weeks have been more overwhelming than any other period of his life — including competing in four Olympics.

"For me personally, it's been probably the toughest stretch that I've ever gone through," Phelps, 34, said in an interview Monday with ESPN's Outside the Lines. "There's so many uncertainties and we're just basically fighting to make sure we stay in some kind of routine to try to keep it as normal as possible."

In an essay published on ESPN Monday, Phelps said that the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the "uncertainty" it brings have "been a challenge I never expected."

The gold medalist shared that he has endless questions about the pandemic that drive him "insane."

"So many questions. When is it going to end? What will life look like when this is over? Am I doing everything I can to be safe? Is my family safe?" he wrote. "It drives me insane. I'm used to traveling, competing, meeting people. This is just craziness. My emotions are all over the place. I'm always on edge. I'm always defensive. I'm triggered so easily."

"This is the most overwhelmed I've ever felt in my life," the athlete shared, admitting that he wishes at times he could be "some random person" instead.

While the swimming pool was once Phelps' escape from difficult emotions, the athlete said that he's learned now "it's important to try to take a step back" and look at the source of those emotions. While he uses motivational quotes and journaling, Phelps said that sometimes, he removes himself completely from a situation in order to "reset, in a way."

Maintaining a routine is also important for Phelps.

"Whatever we are doing, dinner is always on the table at 5. I take responsibility for that. I enjoy cooking. It helps me. Then it's bath time, bed time, wind down a bit with Nicole and then I'm in bed by 10 before we do it all over again."

Phelps said that he's opening up about his own mental health struggles with the hope of helping others who might be going through something similar.

Michael Phelps
| Credit: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty

"There are a ton of people fighting the exact same thing. It doesn't matter what you went through, where you've come from or what you want to be," he wrote in the ESPN essay. "Nothing can hold you back. You just need to learn the tricks that work for you and then stick with them, believe in them, to keep yourself from getting into a negative cycle."

Phelps added in the Outside the Lines interview that being vulnerable with fans shows that celebrities and athletes are "human."

"I think so many people think we're, you know, almost like an action figure and you just wind us up and we go," the father of three explained.

Phelps encouraged readers to think about the everyday question, "how are you?" and to go beyond the knee-jerk answer of "fine" or "good" by answering more truthfully.

"There's nothing to hide from," Phelps wrote. "Nothing to be afraid of. The fight is only against yourself."