Simone Biles: Nothing But Strength

Cortnee White, Mental Performance Specialist
Cortnee White, Mental Performance Specialist

Over the past few days myself and my team have been contacted by numerous news and media stations, friends, and others wanting to know our perspective on Simone Biles pulling out of the Olympics after some mental health concerns.  

For me in this moment as an Athlete Therapist I would like to first address the fear and anger people have expressed about her decision. The fear that we are raising and promoting weak minded athletes. That her choice and other athletes’ choice to take care of themselves is selfish and soft. That she is a quitter and choked under pressure. Simone has 36 medals, 27 of them gold. She spends 7 hours a day 6 days a week training.

Nothing about Simone’s journey of greatness is weak or soft. Her training would cripple most, the trauma she has experienced in her sport and in her life would cripple most and yet she has shown nothing but strength. She had a small moment in her incredible career where she didn’t feel right and did what she thought was best for her and her team. 

Simone Biles addressing her mental health concerns.

Every day I sit with athletes some as young as 9 who come in for mental health concerns or just in need of support while they devote their life to a sport that can be incredibly harsh. Riddled with anxiety, pressures and injuries. Ashamed and angered that they feel the way they do. 

Yet, most continue to show up, break their bodies and be ridiculed by armchair experts over every little thing. Everyday I am amazed by athletes’ struggles and their ability to still be successful and hold it all together. 

Our own fears and uncomfortability with seeing athletes struggle or what happens if we address it has only caused more fear and harm. People’s anger only promotes that medals, perfection, and physical output is all that is important. 

Simone has not been the first nor will she be the last to put her health and safety first over winning a medal.

I am extremely grateful to be in a career that allows athletes to be human, to be broken, to be strong and to be empowered to step back out there or walk away. 

Want to learn more about my services?


Head over to CWSportsCounseling.com

Exercise and Panic Attacks.

Have you ever been exercising and felt like your heart was racing, you couldn’t catch your breath, felt faint, or dizzy to the point you had to leave the gym or step outside to compose yourself?

Cort

Exercise is the remedy for almost everything including relieving mental health concerns but, what if exercise is triggering mental health concerns? Let’s first look at our brain and one of its most important collections of cells.

The Brain Has an Important Job.

The amygdala is a collection of cells located on each side of the brain’s hemispheres that is the command center of how we process strong emotions like fear and pleasure. When needed it activates the fight or flight response. It sends out hormones to speed up heart rate, release adrenaline, and redistribute blood.

In situations that seem to be threatening the amygdala and the adrenal system are designed to override cognition and respond faster than the logical frontal cortex. This means that the instant we have an anxious thought or feeling, a flood of chemicals is pumped through the body in an attempt to protect us from whatever might be threatening us. Even when we are just in our gym doing some cardio.

Exercise Mimics Panic Attacks.

When exercising we feel physiological stress very similar to anxiety. Essentially exercise mimics panic attacks. Shallow breathing, a racing pulse, chest pressure, sweating, dizziness are all-natural reactions of exertion; and they’re also symptoms of panic attacks. Those who may have a panic disorder or an anxiety disorder can be highly sensitive to those physiological changes making working out a not so great experience.

Exercise mimics panic attacks.

What If I Don’t Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Exercising for the first time in a while or pushing yourself to the limit might accidentally trick your brain into thinking you’re in trouble and induce panic. If you are new to working out or it has been a minute your brain and body are just not used to these drastic changes and elevated nervous system arousal. Being out of shape does not mean we are likely to have a panic attack but if our responses to the moment of being unable to breathe or see straight are extremely anxious it could happen.

People who also have exercise-induced asthma may also be more likely to experience panic attacks. I myself had exercise-induced asthma when playing basketball and football. At times I would reach overexertion start wheezing and then feel worried about how I couldn’t catch my breath. Though, I never reached full panic I can see how easily it happens.

I have also had athletes who had minor performance anxiety with no reports of ever having panic attacks have one in the middle of the game. With high and long-term exertion levels that sports produces paired with the seriousness of that event and the anxious thoughts that come with it can absolutely kick in panic.

Exercise is still the number one remedy for mental health concerns.

Exercise Is Still The Remedy.

The funny thing is that long-term exercise decreases cortisol levels and the nervous system’s overall arousal levels. If we as athletes and gym-goers can learn to tolerate and manage the symptoms during and after exercise, over time there will be a reduction of stress hormones and the arousal of the nervous system.

So, take it slow when needed, remind yourself you will be okay, and come up with an action plan for if it ever happens again. It is also important to go talk to someone if it keeps happening to learn more about your body and brain.


CHANGE IS HARD

The Athlete Mind

CHANGE IS HARD!

We are inherently motivated to better ourselves and move towards our full potential. However, this does not mean we always are motivated or reach the goals we set for ourselves.

Cortnee WHite

I have been fascinated with human behavior for a long time. Especially in the world of health and fitness. The work I do is helping people and athletes change. Change the unhelpful thoughts, routines, and behaviors. To help move and support them to become their best and healthiest versions.

The idea of change is simple right, stop eating ice cream, just go to the gym, just leave that toxic lover, or go get some help. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Change is uncomfortable, even change that will better our health or make us more successful is a daunting task.

Working hard to make changes in business.

A CHANGE THEORY

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist left an interesting theory that we fear our best just as much as our worst. He coined the “The Jonah Complex” describing our tendency to evade our own capacities. He observed that for us to have standards and a mission in life is a really scary expectation. As it implies that we must put aside all our excuses for not living up to our potential. As a result, we don’t answer the call to greatness and instead practice what Maslow called mock humility.

He highlights that when we set low targets for ourselves and do only as much as necessary to be satisfactory, that we might be setting ourselves up for unhappiness.

Now, this is just a theory but what I can relate to is that sometimes it’s not about what we will gain from change but what we will lose. Of course if we set aside all of our excuses to be fit, to quit bad habits, to live our best life…heck yeah I’m all for it. But, food is comforting, smoking has become a coping skill, changing teams or work means I’ll lose connections, if I leave a bad partner i’ll lose all the time I spent on them and be alone.

What comes after change is great and rewarding but the process of change is where we stumble. I have found confronting the behavior that needs to be changed is more about what that behavior has provided you and what losing it uncovers.

I love finding balance, being content and eating my ice cream but sometimes we need to ask ourselves if we are practicing mock humility in order to not feel the discomfort of change?

Some food for thought…


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