The Los Angeles Sparks recently hosted a panel for student athletes called: Navigating Mental Health & Wellness During Times of Social Unrest. The virtual panel was conducted to help youth process the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic and of racial inequality in America.
Sparks center Kristine Anigwe and assistant coach Fred Williams were on the panel along with clinical sports psychologist Dr. Kensa Gunter, Mississippi State University director of counseling & sport psychology Dr. Angel Brutus, and sports executive Eric Kussin. Sparks director of community relations & youth sports Rushia Brown acted as the moderator for the panel.
Panelists shared anecdotes and advice, they used their background to encourage the student athletes to keep their mental health in mind.
Williams shared his experience witnessing the Watts Rebellion in 1965 and the L.A. Uprising in 1992. Watching people of different races marching in protests gave him optimism.
“For me, to see that the last few weeks, it brought tears to my eyes because I thought I would never see that,” Williams said. “That is so good to see, linking arms with all nationalities in 2020.”
Anigwe spoke on the challenges that Black women face referring to her life as well as the murder of Breonna Taylor.
“It’s just exhausting knowing that if something happens to a Black woman, who’s going to fight for her?” she said. “Her murderers still aren’t charged, they’re walking free.”
While she grapples with the murder of Taylor, Anigwe is quarantined with her mom and stays indoors to keep her safe from COVID-19. Anigwe also has a history of having anxiety and panic attacks, she combats them by journaling and meditating.
The required isolation involved with battling against COVID-19 could raise the anxiety levels of people. Expressing anger in the face of the pandemic and social injustice can be easier than showing sadness, according to Gunter.
“Really thinking through how we take care of ourselves from an emotional standpoint becomes vital now so we can have those habits in place,” Gunter said.
This time brings up the uncomfortable topics of politics, race, and mental health. Kussin noted how people can work out their bodies as well as their minds to manage stress.
“There are exercises for our mental health, even if we can’t get to a therapist that we can do,” he said. “Meditation is an exercise, yoga is an exercise, breathing practices are an exercise.”
Brutus noted that mental health is part of a person’s physical health and it’s imperative to preserve our own strength.
“We have to be very mindful, intentional and deliberate about protecting our energy because our energy is necessary, our energy has value,” Brutus said. “We wouldn’t just go out giving people $1000 bills, think about your energy in the same way and how much of that are we giving back to ourselves.”
Managing major stressors, learning how to be an ally, listening to the life stories of others, and learning about different perspectives are some of the other topics touched on during the panel.
“What you see changes what you look at,” Brown said. “Mindset is really important.”