Hannah Macdougall is a dual Paralympian for Swimming and cycling. She also has a PhD in Athlete Wellbeing. Han shares her experience of burnout, patience and learning on the path to the Paralympics.

Sometimes you hit the ground. And you hit it hard. And it hurts in so many different ways. There is the physical pain that is as strong as an ox – and oodles stronger than Khabib and Conor combined. But then there is also the mental and emotional side of the coin – the stress, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lost, sad, angry, hopeless, frustrated. Most of which are generally rather unhelpful to life when we get caught up in that whirlwind.

However, when the shit hits the fan the hardest – this is generally when we learn the most. Bugger.

Last Tuesday I went for an appointment at The Mind Room. I love the blend of positive psychology, well-being, mindfulness, and other techniques that are woven through the sessions.

I knew I was close to the edge of collapse on my way there – tears are usually a give away, as is the ability to get overwhelmed at tiny things e.g., people cutting me off, getting red lights, spilling Keep Cup liquid on white skirts, my almond turmeric latte (extra hot and large) NOT extra hot, hitting the curb in the hire car, getting beaten to a carpark by ONE car, having to park 100m away instead of 20m. All in the space of 30minutes. Yep, first world problems. But END of the world for me.

Then talking through and reflecting in the session on things that usually get me excited – mindfulness, well-being, motivational interviewing, engagement, teaching, evidence, science. Lackluster around these topics spread over the top of exhaustion. The result? Probably a bit of burnout there. Then couple it with spending the majority of days in bed since last Wednesday with a sinus virus plus extras. I think Kleenex and Dettol hand sanitizer shares have gone through the roof.

So, good news for Kleenex and Dettol. Also good news for self-reflection and awareness. Because there has been more of this happening than Honey Badger Nick’s final night before the non-rose ceremony to Britt and Sophie. A few things I have come to realise/remember over the past few days:

Importance of the exhalation.

This is one of the few methods that we know can actively switch the body from fight or flight to digest and rest (sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system). Some practical implementation strategies I am now applying:

  • Breathing more between mouthfuls and eating more slowly
  • Upping my Mon-Fri 10minute breathe practice to 15-20minutes
  • Setting up an hourly reminder on my computer to breathe consciously and deeply for 60 seconds

I also stumbled across this pod cast around being constantly tired, wired, and not knowing why. It was an interview with Dr Libby Weaver – a lady making strides in women’s health. As a result, I have had my first foray into Tai Chai via some Youtube videos (a simple search of ‘Tai Chi for Beginners’) elicited a number of options. For me, the crux of this practice comes back to the breath – our all important life force.

Some other ‘aha’ moments? Expressing my thanks and gratitude to my friends for being in my life, and asking for their patience while I find my feet again – i.e., showing vulnerability. Cheers Brene Brown for helping me turn this concept from something to slink away from to something empowering. For those who haven’t hooked her up yet – click here and here. Powerful stuff.

Being the typical ‘lets-jam-as-much-as-possible-into-life-with-a-little-bit-of-mindfulness-and-wellbeing-practices-in-there-and-really-only-doing-bandaid-fixes-and-expect-life-to-be-rays-of-sunshine’ –

‘How did that work for you Han?’

[Insert sound of crickets]

I have now written this on the whiteboard at home:

Naturally, my handwriting and artistic skills are in line with the above…

Right. Small steps to walk my talk. Fill the glass up again. Patience -I feel this will be an entire life lesson for me. Compassion– self-compassion is a skill I am putting a fair bit of energy into and enjoying some guidance from the Buddhify app.

In my 31 years of life, I have never spent the majority of five out of seven days in bed. Never. Not even when I had my hip surgeries. Hell, I was on the bike the very next day. It has been super tough not being out there in the sunshine on the two wheels. Laughing with my friends and family. I have had to laugh at my own jokes my mind comes up with (Han, I think you are legless – 10/10 captain…).

I am a work in progress.

Until next time,

Ride with a smile, ride with a purpose, ride in the moment,


Original article published on Hannah’s website and blog page


Hannah Macdougall is a dual Paralympian, previous World Record Holder, has captained the Australian Swimming Team at both a World Championships and Paralympic Games, completed a PhD in Athlete Well-Being, and still manages to find time to continue her mission of discovering Melbourne’s best baked eggs. Not bad for a 30 year old.

2018 Statistics so far:

  • 10, 871km of riding
  • 478hrs of riding
  • 61, 090m of vertical climbing
  • 210 rides
  • 23 races
  • 124hrs of gym
  • 56 hours of formal mindfulness meditation
  • 87 turmeric lattes

You can follow Hannah’s journey across Twitter / Instagram



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