Aly Raisman has earned a break. The Olympic gymnast spent the last decade dedicated to her sport, served as captain of both the “Fierce Five” in 2012’s London Olympics and “Final Five” at Rio in 2016, and collected six medals—three of them gold. Then in 2018, Raisman was one of 156 women who testified against former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at his sexual abuse trial.

At the start of 2020, Raisman announced on Instagram that she would not train for the Tokyo Olympics. Instead, she vowed to restore herself after a whirlwind stint in the spotlight. “I’ve been taking time for myself to recover and to heal,” she tells ELLE.com. “I think that the last five years of my life, I’ve been so exhausted and feeling so depleted. For the first time in my life, I’m really giving myself permission to actually rest.”

Raisman is also sharing her self-love expertise with others as an #AerieReal Role Model. In honor of World Kindness Day, the brand is launching its Kind Campaign, along with an #AerieREAL Kind Hotline. Those in need of TLC can receive a message from Kindness Advocates, including Raisman, Storm Reid, and Katherine Schwarzenegger. “So many people are battling something right now,” Raisman says. “The pressure of the holidays is a lot, and it can be very depressing and lonely for some people.”

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She admits that her own journey to inner peace is a work in progress. “One of the things I’ve learned in the last couple of months is it’s not a quick fix,” Raisman explains, adding, “I think that we live in a world where there’s so much information out there about how to feel better. You eat this certain food to feel better, you meditate and you feel better. But what I’ve realized is it’s not one or two things I do. It’s really shifting my everyday routine and my lifestyle in order to feel like my best self.” Part of Raisman’s revamp has meant unplugging during the pandemic. She’s opted for guided meditation apps over true crime podcasts and reading Glennon Doyle’s Untamed over bingeing reality TV. (Watching The Vampire Diaries with her mom is a guilty pleasure she’s holding onto.)

gymnastics   artistic   olympics day 11
Raisman at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Alex LiveseyGetty Images

It’s a major change of pace from her days training for the Olympic stage. But Raisman is still thinking about the athletes whose dreams have been postponed as the Tokyo Summer Games move to 2021. “Athletes’ safety obviously should always be the highest priority. I think that includes mental health,” Raisman says. “Athletes should be taking time for themselves and figuring out what they need in this moment, because there’re so many different factors in it. There may be some athletes who actually can’t even afford to continue to train for another year. I can’t imagine how hard that must be.”

These days, she’s officially swapped her bedazzled leotard for sweatpants and Olympic-level workouts for walks with her new rescue dog, Mylo. But Raisman says she’s also shifted her mindset. “Up until a couple of months ago, if I was having a hard time with something, I would always need validation from somebody else. I was relying on other people to help me feel better,” she recalls, adding, “It becomes a problem when the therapist isn’t available, when my mom’s not available to talk, or my friends aren’t available. In that moment, in that fight or flight moment, I’m working on not relying on other people to self soothe.”

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It’s a process that Raisman says began with “creating a space within myself, where I can trust that I have the answers.” She knows that setting boundaries and breaking habits takes time. That, like the #AerieREAL Hotline, caring for yourself often starts with receiving kindness from someone else. Still, Raisman appears to be reveling in the slow burn of acceptance. “I recognize it’s not something that happens overnight,” she says, “But I’m proud of the progress that I’ve made so far.”

The #AerieREAL Hotline launches November 13 and is active through December 25. Dial 844.KIND.365 or find more information about the initiative—and how to nominate a loved one—here.

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