Olympic Swimmer and Psychiatry Resident Andi Murez, MD, Shares Her Mindset for Success

By Lifestyle Medicine Staff

Olympic Swimmer and Psychiatry Resident Andi Murez, MD, Shares Her Mindset for Success

“I’m going to Paris!” says former Stanford University swimmer Andrea (Andi) Murez, 32. “I’m so excited. It’s only a month away, and I have so much to do.”

This summer is not Murez’s first time on the Olympic stage. Paris will mark her third time competing as a sprint freestyle swimmer in the Olympic games. One year after graduating from Stanford in 2013, she moved to Israel to swim professionally for the national team. Murez has trained with Team Isreal for the past ten years, competed in the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and now has her sights on Paris.

Swimming is not the only way Murez spends her time. She was pre-med at Stanford and then attended medical school at Tel Aviv University. She graduated from medical school in the spring of 2023 and will attend a residency program in psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota later this summer—after she competes in the Olympics. She plans to specialize in sports psychiatry and work with mental health among Olympic athletes.

How Does She Do It?

Most people would consider competing in the Olympics or graduating from medical school and being accepted into a prestigious residency program enough. However, it takes an exceptional human being with superhuman coping skills to achieve two elite-level accomplishments simultaneously.

Along with taking deep breaths to calm her nerves, Murez shares many lessons she learned in her twenty-plus years of competitive swimming that she applies to achieve success outside the pool.

Time Management

Whether the goal is to perform on race day or an important exam, Murez manages her time by breaking the goal down into smaller tasks and focusing on what she needs to accomplish that day. This strategy calms her nerves since the shorter to-do list is less overwhelming, and her confidence builds when she meets her daily goals. She also writes in her journal every night to solidify her daily accomplishments and reflect on how she can improve. Then, when race or exam day arrives, she reassures herself that she has done everything possible to prepare.

Murez also manages her time by balancing swimming and studying and finds that each endeavor supports the success of the other. “There are definitely times when doing both is stressful, but I’ve learned from a young age how to balance school and swimming,” she says. “Even though the workload for each got more intense year after year, I’ve realized they help each other. For example, after a long day of medical studies, I had to swim to stay in shape for the next Olympics—and exercise is a good way to relieve stress. And vice versa. When I overthink about swimming, I can get stressed out, so school allows me to focus on something else and use my brain in a different way.”

Perseverance

Murez found that many of her medical school classmates got frustrated and impatient during intense study periods. They found it challenging to persevere through the academic rigor of medical school when they could not yet see the reward for their efforts.

However, due to her experiences as a competitive swimmer, Murez understood that hours and hours in the pool pays off on race day. This understanding of delayed gratification helped her persevere through the all-nighters of medical school.

“The Olympics only happens every four years, so the hours of training can’t just be about race day—that’s too much pressure. You’ve got to have perspective; you’ve got to enjoy the process day in and day out,” says Murez. “Dealing with pressure and staying motivated and not quitting during intense periods are skills I learned from swimming that I didn’t even know I had until I realized that others didn’t have those skills.”

Stay in Your Lane

It’s natural to be intimidated by intense competition. Over the years, Murez has learned to cultivate habits of positive self-talk, not comparing herself with other swimmers, and maintaining focus on her own progress.

“If you have bad thoughts just before the race, it can totally change the outcome. If I think, ‘That swimmer next to me looks so strong,’ I’ve learned to tell myself, ‘But, I’m strong, too,'” says Murez. “It’s important to remember that whether you win or lose, it’s not all in your control. There are the other competitors and how well they will perform, but they are also dealing with their nerves and doubts. Figuring out how to focus on your own race is really important.”

On the rare occasion that Murez misses her mark, rather than indulging in comparison and self-deprecation, she motivates herself with curiosity about the next steps to improvement.

“Instead of driving my ambition with force, I let my curiosity drive me,” says Murez. “I continually ask myself, ‘There are always ways to improve—how can I do better next time? How far can I go with this sport?’ After ten years of swimming professionally, I’m grateful that I’m still in this sport, I’m still succeeding, and I still love it.”

Mental Health Among Athletes

In the last four years, athlete mental health has become more accepted and less stigmatized. At the Tokyo Olympics, Michael Phelps and Simone Biles raised awareness about the importance of mental health among elite athletes. Murez hopes Paris Olympians will feel empowered to discuss their mental health struggles and how they overcame them.

Murez is also working with Stanford Lifestyle Psychiatry physicians to create a mental health survey that Olympic athletes must pass in order to compete. Murez is translating the survey into Hebrew to serve athletes in Israel.

“Getting an annual mental health check is just as important for Olympic athletes as the physical exam,” says Murez. “It’s important to have these conversations and raise awareness that elite athletes are human beings that have mental health struggles, too.”

In the future, Murez is on track to becoming a sports psychiatrist to help elite athletes manage stress and improve their mental health. She plans to encourage athletes to have balance in their lives and engage in activities other than their sport. “If I didn’t make Paris, I was also excited about starting residency. I think having a plan B if plan A doesn’t work out is good for athlete mental health,” she says.

Murez will also advise athletes to create a solid support system, such as mentors, coaches, family, and friends.

“When I’m stressed, along with taking deep breaths, finding perspective, and staying grateful, I also lean on my support system,” she says. “When I talk to my parents, they remind me that I’m not just a swimmer—I’m a complete person, and I’m not defined by the outcome of a race. They remind me that no matter what happens, I’m still Andi on the inside. I’m still that little girl who wants to jump in the pool and race.”