Like a Pro: Gemma Bonner – Self-Care

self-care podcast

We are continuing with our mini-series Like A Pro. Today, we hear from Gemma Bonner, a defender for Racing Louisville FC. Gemma has learned firsthand the importance of self-care, recovery and rest. As a professional athlete, these things are critical to maintaining top performance, though they ring true for everyday life, as well. 

To kick off the conversation, Gemma first shares why self-care is so important for her as a woman and athlete. The older she gets, the more important a ritual of self-care has become in her life. She has learned that self-care can be beneficial in different ways, both mentally and physically. It’s so easy to get caught up in our external world and forget the simple task of looking after ourselves. It can be as simple as making sure you are getting enough sleep and putting good fuel into your body.

Gemma reveals her practical approaches to self-care. First and most importantly, she ensures that she gets enough sleep—at least 8 hours every night. To help with sleep and relaxation, she often turns to meditation. She also drinks plenty of water and stays hydrated to avoid fatigue and brain fog. She has recently taken up the commitment of yoga, which has helped her performance and mental health. She admits that she finds self-care easier to practice when she is on her training schedule in the U.S. compared to back home in England. For those struggling with time, she offers advice on getting started.

It’s important for Gemma to find a balance between her life, work and socializing. Our society reinforces the message of hustle culture, especially for women. Gemma has learned that she doesn’t necessarily have to push herself to the extreme in one area, when there are so many other areas she could improve in. This might include something as simple as reading a book to help mental toughness. If there is anyone listening who feels they need permission to give themselves a break, this is your sign. Pushing beyond your limits can actually be more harmful than good.

Finally, Gemma participates in a lightning question round so that listeners can get to know her a little better. Hear about her bedtime routine, mood-boosting music and her favorite thing to do in Louisville.

Key Takeaways:

  • [0:49] Introduction to the episode and today’s guest.
  • [2:06] Why is self-care important for Gemma?
  • [3:46]  What do self-care and recovery look like for Gemma?
  • [8:24] Gemma’s biggest self care struggle. 
  • [11:52] The red flags which tell Gemma she isn’t practicing self-care as well as she could be.
  • [15:18] Finding the balance between self-care and peace of mind.
  • [19:54] Lightning question round.
  • [21:43] Closing thoughts.

Learn more about Racing Louisville FC.

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View Transcript

Speaker 1: Well, welcome back to HealthTalks NOW, a podcast brought to you by Baptist Health, where I ask the experts the health and wellness questions that matter most. We are so excited to be back kicking off our third season of the show. And I have to say, we have quite the season lined up for you, including some surprises and some special guests. So right now, make sure you’re subscribed to the show so you don’t miss an episode. Go click that subscribe button so that you’ll be getting notification every time we drop a new episode.

Welcome back to HealthTalks NOW, a podcast brought to you by Baptist Health, where I ask the experts the health and wellness questions that matter the most. We’re continuing on today in a spinoff, a little mini series of the show that we’re calling Like a Pro. If you missed last episode, you’ll want to go back and take a listen when we talked to Tyler Gibson from Louisville City FC. He gave us a lot of great nutrition tips on how he eats well and fuels his body well so that he can continue playing like a pro.

Today, we are talking with Gemma Bonner, a defender for Racing Louisville FC. Gemma has learned firsthand the importance of self-care, recovery and rest. As a professional athlete, these things are critical to maintaining top performance, but they also ring true in everyday life for non-athletes as well. Taking the time to care for and rest our bodies is paramount to overall health and wellbeing.

Take a listen in as we talk with Gemma and get some of her best rest and recovery tips that help her continue performing like a pro.

Well, Gemma, thank you so much for taking time to come talk with us today. I’m excited to have you on this special episode of the show.

Gemma Bonner: No, I’m so excited to be a part of it and I’m excited to get started.

Speaker 1: So we’re going to talk about self-care today. And I think the idea of self-care is something that went from kind of non-existent, to almost the complete opposite swing of the pendulum to being something that’s such a buzzword it almost loses its value a little bit. So let’s start really basic. Why is self-care important to you as a woman, as an athlete? And what role does it play in your life as a professional athlete?

Gemma Bonner: Yeah. I mean, for me, it’s usually important, especially the older that I’m getting. And I guess I’ve been exposed to a lot more different methods or ways, whether that be to help me mentally, physically or any kind of other way. And just to keep healthy in general, I think that’s so huge at the moment with the society. And I think there’s so many things that can kind of take you away, or you kind of get sidetracked with things that are going on, the social life, things like that. But it’s quite easy to forget the simple ways, like you say, about looking after yourself first and foremost. And if you do that and you’re feeling healthy in yourself, then it allows you to live a happy life. Yeah. It’s something for me that obviously I need to do it for my job. Every single day, it’s something that I really need to take care of myself. And it’s something that I try and enjoy doing to make it something as part of my routine, because it enables me to live a happy life.

Speaker 1: Yeah. I think you make a good point. It doesn’t have to be this real complicated thing. It’s just generally making sure that your body is getting enough sleep. And putting good fuel into your body is a form of self-care. But let’s talk some more about practicality, because one of the things that drives me crazy when you hear talk about self-care is the lack of practical application. They’ll tell you that you need self-care, but they won’t tell you what you should do. So what does self-care and recovery look like for you? What have you found that works? Or maybe what practical tips can you share with our listeners that you use to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?

Gemma Bonner: I mean, the first simple one for me is sleep.

Speaker 1: So important.

Gemma Bonner: I make sure I try and get at least eight hours a night. But I’ve also learned that, I think probably when I was younger I used to almost think in my head, if I don’t have eight hours sleep, I’m tired. And that was almost a mental thought. I might not have been tired, but I was almost thinking like, oh, I’ve not had a good night’s sleep. I’m tired today. But I’ve kind of learned, ideally I’ll try and get into a good routine. And I wouldn’t try and be on my phone, I won’t do anything like that probably from 9:00, 9:30 onwards to make sure I get eight hours. And now that I’m into a routine, I tend to wake up without an alarm. But I also don’t stress if I don’t have the full night’s sleep, I try and then just squeeze it, even if it’s a 20 minute nap in the next day, just to kind of get a little extra boost in.

So yeah, sleep’s probably the first thing for me. I also to help with that, I try and relax and I do a lot of the meditation, just listen to one of them. And you sometimes if I’m thinking I’ve got a lot of thoughts going through my head in the evening, I’m like, I’ve got to do this, this and this, and it’s stopping you from sleeping, I find it helps if I just put one of those on and I very rarely hear the end of the session. I mean, there’s so many of those that are readily available now online, or through podcasts, or whatever it is. And it doesn’t have to be a long one. It can be 10, 20 minutes, but I find it really helps me kind of relax and put my body in recovery mode, essentially.

Another thing I tend to do is drink water. It’s very basic, but I can usually tell in myself if I’m not hydrated. Makes me feel a bit kind of slow mentally and tired. So those two for me are probably the most easy, basic things that I try and do on a daily basis. But other than that, I’ve actually recently started doing yoga, and I’ve found it’s been amazing for me on both a performance side, it’s helped my body recover quicker, but also kind of taking the time to concentrate on what you’re doing. And yeah, I guess it was something that I wanted to do for a while and I’d kind of sporadically done it, but never made it, okay, I’m going to do it on a consistent basis and regularly every week or every few days. So I’d kind of done it for periods before, a few weeks at a time and then stopped. But it’s something now that, this is probably the longest time that I’ve really kind of committed to it and I’m really kind of starting to feel the benefits, both mentally and in terms of how my body’s recovering.

Speaker 1: So how’d you get started with yoga? What did you do? You’re like, I want to do this. What was your step?

Gemma Bonner: Well, I’ve actually done hot yoga at home, back in England. Again, but it would just be kind of in the off-season, you still want to do something, but it was a good recovery. And I guess at home I never really kind of continued it, because it’s kind of trying to find the time and you always almost find something else to do. And it was actually over here, one of the girls mentioned, “oh, I want to do yoga.” So I was like, “I want to do it as well. Let’s find somewhere.” So we found somewhere. And I think because we went regularly, I’ve actually now made it as part of a routine on a recovery day or I make sure that I go. I kind of have the routine that we do, and sometimes I’ll do it just at home on my own if I need to do a little extra or just to kind of allow myself that time to focus on myself essentially, because I think it’s quite easy to get carried away and do so many other things, and forget about actually yourself and what you need to do.

Speaker 1: It is. I think especially as women, it’s easy to let everything else kind of stack up ahead of yourself. But I love that you mention things that are attainable and basic, because sometimes it’s the easiest things that take the best care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a trip to the spa or something very fancy or elaborate. It can literally be making sure your body sleeps, and giving it good food and making sure it’s got enough hydration. But on the flip side of the coin, I heard you mention time. What is your biggest self-care struggle and how have you, or are you overcoming it?

Gemma Bonner: Yeah. I mean, I have to admit, I find it much easier to do it when I’m over here and I’m in my training schedule, whereas when I’m back home, there’s always so many other things to do. So I completely get it. There’s so many people that’ll say, I can’t have time. So if I find myself through the days kind of not giving myself time, I’ve tended to, because I wake up early, because I try and sleep early, instead of staying in bed for kind of half an hour and just slowly waking up, I’ll try and get up. And even if it’s just, like I said, the 20 minute meditation or the 20 minute yoga session, there’s actually so many online. I didn’t realize how many there was. And I’ll try and do that. Use the time in the morning, the 20 minutes, because for me, something is better than nothing.

In my head, I think I should be able to find 20 minutes out of my day to put aside that time. And in that time, I’ll try and focus on the area that I feel the most. So it might be my back, it might be my legs, whatever I feel, or it might be a mental meditation on focus. There’s so many that you can do. So I try and, if I’ve not done it, I might, okay, come on Gemma, 20 minutes of your day. And I try and think how I feel afterwards. And I’m glad that I’ve done it.

Speaker 1: That’s such a takeaway for me, especially is that I think a lot of us get into this all or nothing mode where we’re like, if I can’t do it perfectly or if I can’t do it every single day for an hour, I’m just not, what’s the point? And you’re right. I mean, 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, they stack up and they create such a change in how you feel and how you look. And it’s worth it. I saw this speaker once, she said she lives by a five second countdown rule. So like you said, when she’s trying to get out of bed in the morning, have you heard this? Where she’s like, all right, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Let’s go. And that just gives her no excuse to keep procrastinating. I think that’s such a good tip you gave.

Gemma Bonner: Yeah. I think you have to kind of not set, I’m going to do this, this and this every single day for the next five months, because I find you never really kind of do it and you almost end up like, oh, I’ve not done it again. I’ve not done it again.

Whereas I’m like, even if it’s 10 minutes a day for six out of seven days a week, that’s an hour more than I did last week, because I still couldn’t find an hour a day last week. So for me, that’s probably my biggest thing, but it’s more, as I say, as I’m getting older, I’m realizing, or I’ve probably got more time to think about what I need to do. And you start to feel a bit more tired.

But I think for me, it’s really helped me in my training. So once I’ve kind of got that sense of like, okay, it’s helping me, it makes you want to do it more. And I think the hardest thing is starting. And then once you kind of be like, oh, this is actually, I feel better once I’ve done it. And that it’s, what? 15 minutes. I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway that I’ve started to really try and find that time, whether it’s first thing in the morning or lasting at night, 15 minutes before you go to bed.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Well, I think burnout is kind of inevitable in most people, but I imagine, especially as a professional athlete, when you’re not only balancing a very physically and emotionally demanding career, but you’ve also got just the normal struggles and stressors of life and family. What are some of your red flags or warning signs that let you know, I’m not taking good care of myself, I need to take more time and recover, or that you’re not prioritizing your self-care?

Gemma Bonner: Yeah. It’s funny you should say that actually, because the other morning I’ve definitely not had my eight hours, nowhere near. And I was like, Gemma, I’ve stayed awake far too long last night, but I’d actually been out socializing and had a great night. And I was like, right, today I’m really … This is what happens when I don’t like look after myself and have as much rest as I needed to. I was on the day off the next day, so I didn’t have to go in training. So I think I probably only got five or six hours. But naturally because I wake up early, I couldn’t sleep in. So I was like, okay, I’m going to get up. I’m going to do my yoga. And then in the afternoon I had a nap. And I’m not really one that likes napping because I like to try and be productive with my day.

But that was, I really kind of felt like mentally, I was like, I’m not really in the mood. I just want to lie on the sofa all day. And that was a sign to me be like, I can’t ever be like that if I have training or whatever it is the next day. But on the flip side, it’s important that you do kind of enjoy the times, because again, that’s self-care. You need to have a good balance between your life, your work, your social. So I think I was like, I’ve had a great night, but today I need to rest and be ready to go back tomorrow. So I made sure I ate well. But I think in terms of how I felt, I just felt tired and I was like, I just need to rest. I don’t need to go and train. I don’t need to go out. I don’t need to go anywhere. I just need to just spend some time, and moving, and eating well and drinking.

Speaker 1: Well, that’s something we hear just in society overwhelmingly. So it feels like lately is just, I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’m burned out. And I think there’s probably a lot of reasons for that, especially in the last couple years. But taking better care of ourself can certainly, I think eliminate a lot of that just general drain on our energy and our fatigue.

Gemma Bonner: Yeah. I think I also, it’s quite easy, like I said before, to think, I’m tired. I can’t do anything. I don’t have the energy to. But I always find making myself get up and move around, and whether it’s have a shower straight away and go out for a walk, it almost gives you energy. So it’s quite easy to be like, oh I’ve not slept. I’m going to stay in bed all day. If you kind of get up, you make some breakfast, you walk around, then you might go back and have a nap. But I think if you kind of get up, you move, you have a walk around, then it can almost be the flip, as in you’re too tired to do something, you come back, I’ve done it. I feel so much better for it. And now I can rest again. So it’s quite easy. I almost find I’m more tired when I don’t do anything.

Speaker 1: That’s so interesting. And I think, I mean, you’re right. It’s kind of like inertia. You get yourself a little bit of momentum and then it kind of builds, and builds and builds. But if you don’t ever start that process and you just kind of give in to the temptation of just kind of lazing around all day, then you just stay in that state. Well, I think our society really reinforces the message of hustle culture, so you say. The harder you push, the more you’ll have. And I think this is especially true for women who get all these messages that they should just be able to do everything, and succeed at home, and on the field and at school, and all of our relationships, and we should look great while we do it. So how do you balance this drive that you have, I’m sure to excel on and off the field, but also giving yourself grace and respecting the natural limits of your body and your mind?

Gemma Bonner: Yeah. I mean, again, it’s something I’ve experienced in terms of, especially being around so many females and the mentality of, you’ve always got to work harder than someone next to you. And I think that’s just so normal within the female environment that you have to do everything 100% of the time and every minute of every day. And it’s something that I’ve, again, probably seen in so many different ways. But I’ve learned now, not necessarily working, you don’t have to work harder, whether it be physically, you don’t have to push yourself, because there’s also so many other areas that you can learn and improve. So it physically, you might be out on your feet and there’s still, everybody’s wanting to train, and get better and run. But actually, if you are in that much of a fatigued state, you can spend time on that recovery.

Like we just said, the self-care, but also it might be reading a book, which is going to help your mentality side, your attitude, your how you think and how you kind of process your day. So there’s so many, you’re still improving, and you’re still pushing and you’re still getting better every day, but you’re just using a different method. So it might be watching footballs, watching games back, watching the analysis side of things. You’re still learning. It might be reading a book to help your mental toughness, or you develop your winning mentality and learning from how other people do it. Or it might just be completely escaping the whole situation, but you’re still resting your mind, you’re still resting your body. So there’s so many other avenues that you can spend time working on and kind of investing yourself into it.

And in the background, you still, although it might not feel like you’re really pushing and working hard, you’re still progressing yourself as a person, you’re still developing every day. So for me, that’s something that, again, you learn as you get older as to what you need, but there’s so many, I’d say little one percenters that you can do. And it’s not always the obvious one that, okay, I need to be out on the field every single day, running as hard as I can. There comes a point where you’re going to experience the burnout. So I’m going to run this day, but the next day I’m going to use that time to watch video, have conversations with other people, and learn that way and still progress.

Speaker 1: That’s so important. I hope anybody at home who maybe needs permission to take the break is listening here, because I think you’re right. Sometimes if you push beyond kind of what your limit is, whether that’s physically, or just emotionally or mentally, you can actually do more damage then you do good. I mean, you can hurt yourself.

Gemma Bonner: [inaudible 00:18:43] … start to come and you start feeling tired, salvation. You will hit a point where your performance, it either stays the same or it starts to dip. And I always say recovery and rest is just as important, because if you don’t do that, your body doesn’t allow the time to adapt to the training that you’ve done, and recover and be stronger. And I’ve always found that as much as it’s so hard to take days off, because that’s just natural how we are as athletes, you find that you train hard all week and all of a sudden you have two days off, and on Monday it might take you a bit to kind of get back into it, but on a Tuesday you’re like, wow, I feel fresh today.

And you might not realize it until a few days afterwards, but you can really then be like, oh, and then you realize it’s because I’ve actually had rest and my body’s covered. I think it’s usually important that, especially for females, the mentality is to work all the time and the pressure. But self-care is so important. And having that balance between working, and life, and enjoyment and kind of doing what you do all in a kind of, if you manage the time, then you should be able to do everything.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Well I love that. And I really appreciate your input. I think it’s really helpful to hear from somebody who definitely has a full plate and who’s had to learn probably some lessons the hard way about juggling and taking really good care of yourself. Before we let you go, are you up for a quick little lightning question round so we can get to know you a little better?

Gemma Bonner: Yeah, let’s go.

Speaker 1: Okay. All right. Number one, what is your evening or bedtime routine?

Gemma Bonner: Oh. Cup of tea, English [inaudible 00:20:26] … meditation, sleep.

Speaker 1: Perfect. If you could pause life and plan 48 hours of pure indulgence and relaxation, what would you do?

Gemma Bonner: Right now, I would probably head back home to England, spend time with my family and come back. And I reckon with the flight times I could just get [inaudible 00:20:47]-

Speaker 1: Yeah. You’d barely make it. All right. What’s on your playlist that is guaranteed to give you an immediate mood boost?

Gemma Bonner: Oh, probably Bob Marley.

Speaker 1: Oh yeah. That’s good. If you could play any position other than what you play now, what would it be?

Gemma Bonner: I’d probably say a striker, because they are all the glory and score the goals.

Speaker 1: There you go. And what is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?

Gemma Bonner: I really enjoy, we live by the waterfront, so going out for walks around there. But also, there’s so many cool places to go out and eat. So I definitely get the social side.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Well, perfect. Well thank you, Gemma, so much. It’s been really a pleasure talking with you.

Gemma Bonner: Oh thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 1: And we appreciate your time. We will definitely be cheering you on, on the field this season and we look forward to seeing you.

Gemma Bonner: Amazing. Thanks so much.

Speaker 1:   All right. Have a great day.

Gemma Bonner:Thank you [inaudible 00:21:39].

Speaker 1: Thanks.

Gemma Bonner: Bye.

Speaker 1: Well, thanks so much for listening in today. I hope you’re enjoying this mini series Like a Pro, brought to you by our partnership with Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC. That conversation with Gemma really hit home. And I know I for one AM taking away a lot of good tips and maybe some motivation to prioritize rest, recovery and self-care in my own life. I hope you are too. We’ll put the links to Racing Louisville FC’s website in the show notes of today’s episode so that you can go on, learn a little bit more about the players, get their schedule and maybe even attend a game. And as always, for all of your health and wellness needs, you can visit baptisthealth.com to find a physician near you, or start a virtual care visit 24/7, 7 days a week. We’ll see you next time on HealthTalks NOW. Stay well.


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