“Same struggles, the same sufferings, the same day-to-day anxieties and insecurities that that the rest of the world is going through” (Aaron Gordon).
Aaron Gordon of the Nuggets and other athletes share how this was the most challenging NBA season they have ever dealt with; enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, several protests, and a compressed, isolation-inducing schedule that kept them separated from their loved ones. These traumas have been layered on top of feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and depression of losing their identity, fans, and sense of purpose. The normal pressures that athletes have to contend with have been increasing in proportions as they are expected to train and perform at their highest level. Despite efforts such as Cleveland Cavalier Kevin Love’s commitment to bringing mental health awareness to players since pre-pandemic, mental health symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased up from 11% of adults to over 30% today.
Allen Crabbe of the Minnesota Timberwolves shared with Ektha Aggarwal, a conscious psychotherapist supporting NBA players in transforming their mindset, that many people ask him “How can somebody who makes millions of dollars and is financially stable going through depression or experiencing unhealthy mental thoughts?” Athletes have talents and special gifts that may cause the community to value them as more than human, however, they are struggling. Athletes are also humans with mental health challenges. Mental wellbeing hacks and therapy not only provide athletes a platform to release stressors that come with being a professional player, but also learn effective ways to rewire negative thoughts into positive outlooks.
Your mental wellbeing is a core element of your performance on the basketball courts and in your daily life. It can cost you and your team a chance to achieve personal and professional victory. The steps to success begin ongoing awareness of your feelings and emotions, day in and day out. Ben Simmons of Philadelphia 76ers, who felt he didn’t do enough for his teammates, shared:
"The first thing I'm going to do is clear my mind and get my mental [health] right. You got to be mentally tough."
Here’s 5 ways you can develop mental toughness by transforming your struggles into strengths:
1. MANAGE STRESS EARLY
Smiling is something you can do immediately, and it naturally releases endorphins to improve mood. Even if you feel like you don’t have a reason to smile, as meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
Your breath has the power to shift your state of mind and ground you. Taking deep breaths allows you to build the oxygen levels in your body, increase relaxation, and produce clarity; all hacks to show up and perform on the courts.
Visualization is a form of meditation that alleviates stress and anxiety, increasing control over your mind, which allows you to perform at your peak state. Shakti Therapy & Healing work with athletes and train them to visualize success and calmness.
2. REACH OUT FOR SUPPORT
Asking for help is not a weakness! Allen Crabbe of the Minnesota Timberwolves confides that having a strong mental health routine is important for perfecting careers and performing at a high level. He shares that “in the beginning I wasn’t a huge fan of taking up therapy and sharing my personal experiences, but Ektha has been phenomenal in holding space so I am able to express the emotions and feelings that I’ve been holding inside for so long. It has really brought a lot of peace to my life.”
It is important to make use of the resources you have available to help you achieve your goals. Tap into your support systems of family, friends, and mentors. Connection lightens the mood and increases levels of happiness. Here are 3 resources you can use today:
Shakti Therapy & Healing - Psychotherapy supporting athletes in a holistic paradigm
Mentally Together - Podcast by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum
Mind Health - NBA’s mental health support for players
3. COMMIT TO A HEALTH IN A HOLISTIC WAY
A healthy mind and body lifestyle improves emotional health, mood and wellbeing. Making one small change can cause a health rippling effect. Try any of these supportive commitments to improve the state of your mind:
Healthy Sleep Routine
Sleep is the third pillar of wellness, in addition to diet and exercise according to Tuck co-founder and sleep coach, Bill Fish. Sleep hygiene is about being aware about what you do before going to bed in order to invite quality sleep. It can range from sleeping on time, not snoozing, to dimming the lights and turning off all your devices – smartphones, laptops, TVs an hour before bedtime.
A straight posture when standing or sitting promotes circulation and increases oxygen levels in your blood. Elevated oxygen levels reduce stress and increase clarity for performance. Social Psychologist, Amy Cuddy’s “power posing” research found that changing your body position and standing in a posture of confidence changes body chemistry and impacts your performance.
A digital detox or reducing the consumption of news can help calm the mind. It may be important to keep up to date with current events, and it is essential to build in daily breaks from this consumption for your mental wellbeing.
4. START A GRATITUDE PRACTICE
You can build new neural connections and change your perspective with a consistent gratitude practice. Gratitude is the quality of showing appreciation and being thankful for who you are and what you have. It can improve your mood, develop new social bonds, and help rewire your brain with a positive outlook.
Think of one thing you are grateful for everyday. Look around your environment for inspiration. Send love to those you feel connected to. You’re challenged to come up with a new gratitude each day.
5. BE A SUPPORTIVE TEAMMATE.
There will be times where you get to show up for others. Let your teammates and peers know you care and you are there to support them. Check-in and ask “how are you really doing?”
Keep in mind that repetition is critical in helping a person receive permission in sharing how they feel. It is unpredictable how a teammate or peer may feel and need to talk to someone. Part of being a supportive teammate is educating yourself about mental health and wellbeing so you can show up as your best self for your teammates and your peers.
Make the rest of 2021 your year. Make a decision to invest in your well being. Just like shooting 100 free throws, scoring that slam dunk, or lifting weights, finding ways to take care of your mental health sets a solid foundation for wellness and victory on and off the courts.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, reach out, “I can't tell you that this is going to be easy. But I can tell you that it does get better" (Kevin Love). People care. Fans look up to heroes. Heroes are humans who turn their pain into power.
“Developing resilience, a grit, a level of poise, a composure, a level of perspective, confidence, courage, compassion...are all things you can work on daily” by taking the first step of investing in your mental wellbeing (Gordon). The more you take care of yourself, the more clear it becomes where your focus should be on and off the courts.
Allow yourself to turn your struggles into strengths, enjoy the process of being in the present moment, and experiencing happiness.
Ektha Aggarwal is a licensed South Asian Therapist and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services in Los Angeles, CA. Ektha specializes in working with South Asians (Indian & Desi) and people of color to break the stigma around mental health and instill the concept of immigrant resilience. If you are ready to feel empowered, effortlessly achieve your goals, and feel more happiness in your life, schedule a complimentary consultation now.