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Session 256: Black Women In Competitive Sports

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

In the world of competitive sports, an athlete’s mentality can be their best or worst friend. While we may perceive the athletes in our lives, or on our screens, as superhuman, it’s important to remember that they are more human than super. As athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles take public steps to address and protect their mental health, it’s imperative that we continue to create a space for athletes to feel seen and heard. This week I’m joined by Olympic, World, and US National Champion Track and Field Sprinter Natasha Hastings. During our conversation we explored the types of pressures competitive athletes are up against and how coaches and family members can aid the athletes in their lives to suit up not just for their sport but also for their mental health.

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Read Full Transcript

Session 256: Black Women In Competitive Sports

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 256 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the episode after a word from our sponsors.

[SPONSORS’ MESSAGES]

Dr. Joy: In the world of competitive sports, an athlete’s mentality can be their best or worst friend. While we may perceive the athletes in our lives or on our screens as superhuman, it's important to remember that they are more human than super. As athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles take public steps to address and protect their mental health, it's imperative that we continue to create a space for athletes to feel seen and heard.

This week, I'm joined by Olympic, World, and US National Champion Track and Field Sprinter, Natasha Hastings. During our conversation, we explored the types of pressures competitive athletes are up against and how coaches and family members can aid the athletes in their lives to suit up–not just for their sport, but also for their mental health. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Natasha.

Natasha: Thanks for having me. I'm excited.

Dr. Joy: I'm excited as well. I’d love if you could get us started by talking a little bit about when you found yourself starting to prioritize your mental health.

Natasha: I would say I truly started prioritizing my mental health probably when I was about 26, 27. But I say it's like a continuing relationship and it's one that I've kind of had to learn that it's not something you master and then you can go away from it. It's like a constant practice and so there was 26, 27 and then I've been in and out of it and it's just this past... I would say right at the start of the pandemic, where I feel like I've really gotten serious about my mental health.

Dr. Joy: You had been seeing a sports psychologist I think for a while, as it related to athletics. What challenges, either in your athletic career or in your personal life, made you decide to start working with a therapist?

Natasha: It was just that I really got serious about it as a professional, but collegiately, I did have some experience with a sports psychologist here on campus. But again, it was not making the Olympic team in 2012 and as fate would have it, my mom was sitting next to this particular sports psychologist at the trials. After not making the team, he said, hey, I've been watching her for years, I don't think she's tapped into her potential, I'd love to work with her. My mom took his information and then we had a conversation obviously and I started working with him a couple of months after that. After I got over my “I'm done running. I'm gonna go back to school,” you know, they let me go through that emotional roller coaster. I would say that relationship was the transformative one for me.

Dr. Joy: I hear you say the sports psychologist said “I don't think she's tapped into her potential” and that sounds like such a big test. What did that look like for you, for him to help you tap into your potential?

Natasha: I'll never forget our very first session. He asked me, what is it that you're saying to yourself when you're standing on the line? And I ran down everything from I don't want to be here, this is gonna be painful, why am I here, I'm not good enough. When I got through, there was a moment of silence and then he said, “My god, Natasha, I think the reason why you've been performing the way that you've been performing is because you've beaten yourself up before the gun has even gone off.” From there, that relationship was literally changing how I spoke to myself. Sometimes I do a lot of motivational speaking and such, so that's the thing that I say was life changing. But I'm also careful to say that that sounds very simple and very easy-peasy, but it was an every-single-week yearlong practice, a few track meets in, for it to finally click that how I spoke to myself was essentially how my performance was manifesting itself. It was something that seemed so simple but was yet such a big hard practice and habit to change.

Dr. Joy: Is that anything that you had recognized before he called that to your attention?

Natasha: No, no. I think in hindsight now, especially as a black woman, we're kind of raised to be humble and also wear our struggle as though it's this armor or whatever you want to call it. So even normalizing it to the point of realizing like, hey, this is actually something that you might have been taught is okay, but it's actually quite detrimental. It wasn't until that moment, no.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, it does feel like it's a very fine line. Because as an athlete, you are constantly pushing yourself to like the edge of what feels comfortable, I think, for people who are not athletes and especially competing at the level that you are. And so it does feel like a very fine line of like how to push yourself but also not be super critical of yourself.

Natasha: Yeah. It's a touchy conversation because I often say (and I believe) myself and all the other elite athletes are where we are because we think and operate at a level that some people can't necessarily even imagine. Because you do have to be crazy enough to believe that you are part of a... not even a one percent, but a 0.5 percent of the population of the globe. It is something that I think is hard for us to imagine but it's crazy because if you let it go too far one way or the other, it can become really dangerous. But yeah, we are our worst critics. We are our own personal experts but you do have to be crazy enough to believe that you can do these crazy things. But there's also still those human things (while we believe we're superhuman) that float around in our mind to keep us from being that superhuman.

Dr. Joy: I'm wondering if you can share anything that maybe you’ve worked with your sports psychologist or your other therapist, about like how to achieve that balance. Of like knowing that you are destined for greatness and striving for greatness, but also how to stay grounded and not let it go too far. Like what does that even look like?

Natasha: Some of it is boundaries and I think that's a buzzword that we're hearing a lot lately. It's something for me that I didn't necessarily recognize that I was doing until recently, where it's even protecting that mindset. Family and friends, love them to death, but some of them fall into that pot of “you might be saying something out of love but that doesn't work for me and what it is that I'm going after.” And so being able to acknowledge that to myself but then also acknowledge that to the people that I love. Like, hey, I know you mean well but for what I'm doing, that doesn't work for me.

Coach and athlete got to be speaking the same language. Working in a university setting now, it's interesting to see that since there's so much focus on mental health (and I love it) the challenge now is, as coaches, how do you meet your athlete where they are and speak the language that is motivating to them? Because now we’ve got to move away from I would say even abusive tactics that were used to get athletes to perform at whatever level they thought was necessary. I do truly believe also, it comes down to the athlete knowing themselves and finding their voice to say that doesn't work for me, I need to do things in order for it to work for me. And then family, friends, support staff, coaches, we’ve got to meet somewhere here in the middle to make sure that I don't go too far off the ledge but I also protect that mindset that makes me great.

Dr. Joy: I'm glad you mentioned this. I did not grow up in sports so it feels like a bit of a foreign world. On the outside looking in, it does often seem that there's a lot of yelling from coaches sometimes. I'm sure you have learned this, as you are training to become a therapist, like that critical voice that maybe you had at the starting line likely came from somewhere. Did it come from early coaches? Did it come from all of those places? I'd love to hear if the field is kind of moving in a different way in like figuring out other ways to motivate athletes. What does that look like beyond the sometimes very harsh, critical language?

Natasha: Yeah, I think we're definitely moving in a space where we're starting to realize that doesn't work. I can say for me, my experience, I've been running tracks since I was nine, 10 years old. I had a mother that was very involved, but also not very involved. My mom, I don't like the word balance, but she does balance in an interesting way. Because I did have a coach that did a lot of the screaming, yelling and was strict and this and that, and my mom was like, no, she's nine, she's 10, she's got talent but she's going to enjoy this. You're not going to talk to her crazy. Also, she knew that even her as my mom, when she yells at me, I shut down so she knew that communication didn't work for me.

And so I had a parent who advocated for me in that way to put me in situations that she knew I would be successful in. I think that that's something now that we're seeing more of, where we're seeing more mental health departments on university campuses. Even in high school situations now, where they're encouraging athletes to do workshops and high school coaches to do workshops and such. I think they are embracing it a lot more, I think the more we have the Simone Biles and the Naomi Osakas talk about these things too, it continues to normalize it. And get coaches and athletes to realize like, hey, if these world class athletes are saying I struggle with these things and I do ask for help and I do speak up and say today is not the day because I'm having a mental health day, then I think that creates more awareness and safety for athletes and coaches to move into that space.

Dr. Joy: That’s a perfect segue into what I wanted to get more information from you about. What do you think are some of the unique challenges that black women athletes in particular face?

Natasha: I hate to overgeneralize or make things the same, but it is a lot of we got to be 10 times better than our counterparts in the sports world. We've got to be more politically correct. If I'm having a bad day, no one cares, I’ve still got to show up and do my job. I think all of those as they exist in the corporate world, still exist in the athletic world and we're still expected to perform. And there's this notion that this is what we signed up for. It kind of blows my mind because I'm like, being a world class athlete and even in other professions where you're a public figure or a celebrity, it's like the humanness of the person is lost. “Well, this is what you signed up for, your fans make you this.” And it's like, no, actually. I appreciate your support but my hard work and my talent is what made me who I am. At the end of the day, just like you, I still have emotions, I still have bad days. I'm an introvert but because of what I do, a lot of times, our talent as athletes sometimes gets the humanness of us, it's lost in all of that. There's this expectation that we are superhuman and we don't have all of those things and, yes, we're superhuman in our profession, but I still have feelings. There are still different parts that make me as a person.

Dr. Joy: You know, we've talked about this on the podcast before, just the struggles with the Superwoman Syndrome that black women in general have. But then when you do have this almost superhuman talent, I think that adds this additional layer, like you mentioned, of just a loss of humanity and people viewing you almost as a robot or like you're just there to entertain and perform. As opposed to like a human with feelings and thoughts and all of those things.

Natasha: Exactly.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Natasha after the break.

[BREAK]

Dr. Joy: It sounds like you are seeing, in your work, that more spaces are being created to have these kinds of conversations. And talking with athletes, even younger and younger, about these kinds of concerns.

Natasha: I think so and I have my hopes of things that I hope to pay forward to the world of sport, and especially women in sport, and that's one of them. Especially black women in sport. That we leave that space for that humanness and that we give ourselves that space to honor that space as well. Because I think that's something that was key for me–me finding my voice in that and saying, hey, this is not okay for me. I am actually autonomous over myself. And yeah, if you want me to do all of those things on the track, I've got to take care of my person too.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I think a prime example of you really kind of recognizing this was when you found out that you were pregnant. It sounds like you decided to keep that to yourself and like your close inner circle for quite some time. It sounds like there was some worry about sharing it with your sponsors. Can you talk a little bit about what led you to keep that information for as long as you did? And then what happened once you shared the information with them?

Natasha: The first thing that I learned about pregnancy was you often see people hiding their pregnancy. I will admittedly say I was one of those people that was like, why are you hiding a pregnancy? Like you can't hide a whole baby when the baby gets here. Then I got pregnant and I realized how personal of a journey pregnancy is because there were so many fears. Yes, my sponsorship included, but like am I gonna have a healthy child? Am I gonna have a healthy pregnancy? Am I gonna have a full-term pregnancy? All of these things. The idea that, again, my humanness, and I should just live this out for everyone, and I don't have any privacy to experience all of those things–the good and the bad. Because, believe it or not, there are some good things that I'd like to keep private and celebrate privately as well. But yeah, that was one of the first things that I recognized that I get it now.

Then there was the depression that I feel like no one talks about, I don't know if you call it perinatal depression or what. But all of those things. I was like, man, we talk so much about postpartum depression but no one's talking about all of the emotions and fears that you go through while you're pregnant. Am I gonna have a job? Am I gonna have healthcare? Am I gonna have childcare? All of these things and then I'm reading all of these articles and these books. And again, something that transcends sports, it's women in America that have all of these fears. I was like, man, how come I don't hear about all of these? It's not until I'm in these shoes that like I'm starting to feel these emotions and see that other women have gone through the same thing.

Then the sponsorship thing. I gotta make a living, I wasn't planning on having a child before retiring and I didn't know what my sponsors were gonna say. The status quo to that point was if you get pregnant, sometimes they'll drop you, sometimes they'll pause your contract in track and field. I try to only speak from my experience, I don't know how other sports work. But in track and field, we are considered independent contractors. Now we do have pregnancy clauses in our contracts if you ask for it, but up until recently, you had to make the choice. Family or career. And then you have that gamble of, post-baby, will I be able to come back and then will they pick me up and give me my sponsorship back? All of these things.

I made the decision to train up until the day before I gave birth and I knew I wanted to get right back on the track to train for the Olympic trials. Well, training costs money and my sponsorship covers that and so I was afraid. But I was blessed that I was in a different situation and one of the things that I champion about my sponsorship with Under Armour is that I made the phone call to a woman and I think that that made the difference for me. In fact, it was such a difference that, number one, when I made the phone call, they were like, oh, congratulations, wish you would have told us sooner. Also, totally get it because I hid mine too. Not athletically, but I didn't know what my boss was gonna say either.

Then a few weeks later, the New York Times articles came out talking about this thing and then I got another phone call like, girl, I knew you were stressed but I didn't realize it was this bad. I get it. That for me, it felt good. But I'm also aware that that wasn't everybody's story. That wasn't everybody's experience but that is also one of the reasons why I say it is so important. I say this when I talk to my girls through my foundation, any motivational speaking that I do, we need women that are making the decisions for us. We need women that are telling our stories. I always say like there are so many things that can be gained through sport, I want all of us to go out and do sport. Me coming back to do my graduate degree in counseling is because I know how hard it was for me to find a counselor that looked like me. That sports psychologist that I'm talking about, older white man. We need people in places that understand us to make those decisions for us. And so I say the journalists, the cameramen, the coaches, the counselors, the administrators, we need more women in those roles. So that when we do make those phone calls, the person on the other end gets it.

Dr. Joy: Your story has been so impactful and I really appreciate you sharing that. I didn't know. I'm very much outside of that world so I didn't know that y'all were classified as independent contractors. Because there are, of course, all kinds of protections around growing your family and that kind of thing but if you're an independent contractor, not so much. I do think that that is really important for us to be able to pay attention to. Can you talk a little bit about like the postpartum? Can you talk a little bit about how your mental health was and has been impacted since having your son?

Natasha: I would say I was still a crazy athlete. Where everybody was like, okay, slow down, and I'm the one that's like looking at the calendar. Like, look, my doctor said I can walk. She was like you've been training up to your childbirth, you've been an athlete your whole life, you look healthy, you can walk. At six weeks, you can get back on the track. And they were all like, girl, no. Slow down. I remember my mom, I just wanted to go outside and get some fresh air. West Indian, black family–your bones are open, stay inside. Mind you, I had my baby August 6, it was hot in Texas. But anyway, you know, it was all of those things that I was up against.

Also, when my son was five months, I went through the breakup with my son's father. There was already experiencing the baby blues but then now becoming a single mom, that was a big thing for me. That I'm a mother but I'm still Natasha and I still have goals outside of being a mother and I was still just as driven as before, but now obviously my responsibilities are a lot different. Also, I've got all these hormones going on inside of me. My body, I don't recognize. I’m going to practice and I'm peeing on myself, something no one told me anything about. It was definitely an emotional roller coaster because here I am trying to go after yet another Olympic team, trying to be Natasha, but life is happening at the same time and I'm having to juggle all of those pieces.

Dr. Joy: You know, I laugh because my Louisiana mother and grandmothers and aunties had some of those same beliefs. Like I could not leave the house except for doctor's appointments.

Natasha: I love them dearly but...

Dr. Joy: Right. Like where did y’all get these stories from, all this stuff being open? Natasha, something else that you have talked about that I would love for you to go back a little bit to. You talked about the devastation of not making that Olympic team and that's how you started working with the sports psychologist. What kinds of things can athletes start thinking about? Or like how do you deal with failure that feels so big? Like when the Olympics only happen every four years so you're spending all this time training for this one thing. What does it look like to deal with failure?

Natasha: You know, I feel like... My friend Emmanuel Acho said this. The failure isn't necessarily in the failure; the failure is in you actually not getting back up. I think he said something like you just fell but you get back up and you try again. I was like, man, that's really powerful and I agree. Something in the sports world and I think in life, sometimes you’ve gotta have short term memory. Now, I do believe that you have to process that failure, you have to process the emotions and so kind of glossed over it, but I didn't make the team. To put it into perspective, I am a long sprinter, I run one lap around the track, I don't like mileage. But I was so upset that I walked from the stadium back to the hotel. I went through the whole “I don't want to run anymore.” I went through all of these emotions and I had to go through those emotions.

I think that that's something, especially as athletes, that like good and bad... Because that's another thing that I can get into, that we just kind of move on to the next. It's for you to process because your biggest lessons actually come from your failures. You very rarely hear people say like, man, I had this win and, yes, I learned so much. But actually, the bigger lessons come from the failures. And in that failure, I've realized, girl, you need some help. And girl, it's okay to get that help. Just because you need that help, doesn't make you any weaker. Actually, by getting this help, now look. My whole career and even in my personal life. Even though I went for sports psychology, I quickly realized those things that I was saying to myself on the track, I was saying that to myself in real life, too. And it was showing up in my relationships, friendships and all. It was a huge awakening for me. But yeah, your biggest lessons come from those failures, and how you pick yourself up, learn from it and move on from that to be better, that's how you keep going.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Natasha after the break.

[BREAK]

Dr. Joy: Can you tell us a little bit about boundaries already? I'd love to hear more about like what kinds of boundaries or other things do you put in place to be able to operate under the kind of pressure that you have to as an elite athlete?

Natasha: Understanding that it's a lifestyle and not everybody is gonna understand that it's a lifestyle. I'm a firm believer of you don't necessarily have to have like-minded people, but maybe people that have similar goals or that understand the goals that you're going after. You've got to be steadfast about what those boundaries are and what it is that you need because also comparison. You can be in a setting with your training partners and teammates and your teammate might be able to go out for that glass of wine before a competition, but you know that don't work for you. So you know what, don't put yourself in that situation for it to be tempting, for you to do something that doesn't work for you.

But it's truly a lifestyle. I joke all the time, before I had a kid, some days I would be in bed by 5pm and people are like, what? And I'm like, yeah, because my body is my vessel and so I'd love to go have dinner with you but I got this hard workout tomorrow, I had a hard one today, this is just what I have to do. You have to be okay with that. You make sacrifices early on to go after what it is that you're going after. Parenting, I talk to people all time. Just this weekend, actually, a few friends were in town and they were like, oh, we're going blah, blah, blah, we're gonna hang out and do all of this. I laughed because I was like, man, once upon a time, I would actually have FOMO. But I was like I got all of that stuff out. I had my son at 33 and so all the things that I've sacrificed before, I can do now. Which is have my child, and so I don't feel like I'm missing out on those things. But just keep in mind that it's for a season and once you do the things that you want to do, you can come back to those things, they'll still be there.

Dr. Joy: Natasha, have you noticed for yourself or for any of the athletes that you've worked with, that social media adds an additional layer of pressure or things that you have to keep boundaries around?

Natasha: Yeah, thanks for reminding me because that is a big one. I absolutely have a love-hate relationship with social media. Social media can be an awesome tool if you use it correctly. I think I'm in the generation that kind of grew up with social media and so, through that process, even social media had to learn how to police itself. There are now things in place, block is my best friend. It's funny because, somehow, I ended up on that list on my Instagram the other day and I was like, oh, man, it's a lot of people on this list. But also, the timeframe that you're doing social media. If you know that that's gonna affect your mindset the day before going into competition, delete it off your phone, whatever you’ve got to do so that you don't use it.

In a sport like track and field that we don't get much coverage, I know that I've got a post that I'm at this track meet, I'm competing at this time, and I'm this. So you’ve got to know when and how it works for you, but also that boundary of like, okay, I did my post, I let my people know, I met whatever sponsorship obligation, now I’ve got to turn it off to do my job. Absolutely 100% love hate social media completely.

Dr. Joy: Like you mentioned, there are so few people who are operating in their professions in the ways that elite athletes are and so it can be very noisy, I think, to kind of hear all this information and thoughts from other people.

Natasha: You hear it all the time. Like I can't go to an accountant’s job and tell them how they're doing their job but the internet thugs get to tell you they can do their job better. Meanwhile, they ain’t never made the peewee squad. You’ve got to know how to turn the noise off, you do.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. What suggestions would you give for younger athletes about how they can prepare themselves for higher levels of athletic success?

Natasha: I think the foundation always starts very early on. I think even at this level I say you’ve got to be having fun with it so, first and foremost, I hope that you're in a sport that you love and enjoy. Because who wants to get up and do something that they don't love and enjoy? Then I think I'm getting ready to say, especially girls, but girls and boys... Parents, I want us to be teaching our kids to find and use their voices and be their own advocates. I say that in the space of not only coach-athlete relationship, but also protecting our kids. It breaks my heart to hear some of the stories that we hear in regards to abuse, and that's on the high school and collegiate level. It's really important to me that kids are allowed to have their voices to be able to advocate for themselves, come back to their parents, whoever it is that they need to go, to report whatever it is that feels uncomfortable. Because all of those things make for higher level competition as well.

Dr. Joy: This may be a better question for your mom, but I'll see if you have some thoughts here, too. You hear so many like documentaries and stories of the greats and I always wonder, as a parent, when you recognize that your child has like, oh, they are really good at this or maybe a coach tells them... How do you strike a balance maybe of allowing them to have fun at a sport but also maybe pushing them in the way they would need to really be able to kind of master a sport, if you recognize those early signs?

Natasha: Definitely better for my mom and I probably need to talk to her about this too, with my little one. I see little things where I'm like, oh, you are kind of athletic. Okay, I'm ready to sign you up for basketball. He’s two, Natasha, slow down. When I talk about how long I've been in my career, I give a lot of that credit to my mom because it came a lot from my mom's own experience as an athlete. My mom ran track very early on, probably even earlier than me, seven or eight years old. She made the 1984 Olympic team for Trinidad, she also ran for Great Britain before that. But my mom was always adamant that you're gonna be a child first. She was always adamant that nobody's gonna want it more than you.

So yeah, she would encourage me and I remember there was even one time where I was like I don't think I want to run track anymore. I was about 12 or 13. She said that's fine but you're not gonna come straight home from school, you're going to find something else to get involved in. I don't care if it's the glee club, debate team, you're gonna be doing something. Now as an adult, I realize, oh, she was keeping me off the streets, she was keeping me busy. I don't feel like she ever overstepped that boundary or even mentioning her past. Because also, Natasha is my mother's middle name so she named me after her and I've personally taken on this thing where I feel like I'm finishing what she didn't get to finish. Because she made the ’84 team, didn't go, had me two years later, opportunities in sports for women were a lot different then than now. But that's self-imposed, not her at all. I don't know how she did that.

I also feel like whatever she did in allowing me to be a kid, finding that balance between support and encouragement, I think that's why 20 plus years later, I'm still in the sport. Where I can say I've had friends that I feel like were probably even more naturally raw talented than me, that were burned out far sooner than me. I think a lot of it was we do see a lot of overtraining culture, but also mental burnout. You know, if it's not fun, why are we gonna go out here and do it? I hope that did it justice?

Dr. Joy: Yeah, that was helpful to have all that. I didn't know that history about your mom so I think that that is really important.

Natasha: I don't have a complaint about my mom. Where this sports world is considered, she has been totally my advocate. Like I said, you're not going to talk crazy to her, that doesn't work for her. She's 13, she's 15. Yes, she's going to her prom but she'll be at City Champs tomorrow morning. She let me have all of that.

Dr. Joy: I love it. You've talked several times today about the importance of advocacy. What would you say about women athletes and how they can continue to advocate for themselves?

Natasha: I think just that, but I think also educating ourselves on... I can say in our sport in particular. We have got to know the process and the rules. I think a lot of times we kind of just jump on some bandwagons or jump on some causes and I'm like we've got to have some plans but also understand the process that it takes to put those plans into action. I think also, we're competitors but in some instances–and I see this happen a lot in track and field particularly because we're an individual sport–sometimes it's hard for us to be collective. The power, a lot of times, most times, truly lies in the collectivism and that's something I would like to see some more of going forward. As well as in track and field, I also feel like we lose a lot of our alumni. We've got to come back and pour into the sports. I know I don't want to coach, but I know that I want to coach the mindset of the next great in track and field so that’s how I'm gonna pay it forward. There are so many different ways that we can be an advocate and pay it forward to the other athletes coming up behind us.

Dr. Joy: You bring up a good point that I hadn't thought about in terms of like track and field typically being a solo sport. I'm wondering if there are unique mental health challenges or pieces that come with being in a solo sport versus a team sport.

Natasha: I don't know how unique it is but I can say from experience that I've had several conversations with some of my peers and realized that there were a lot of times that we were going through some things that we thought it was just us. And it was like, but girl, if I would have just knocked on your door and said, “hey, this is what I'm going through,” we would have realized that it's the same thing. A part of me doesn't believe that that's a unique thing because I think, as athletes, even in team sports, there's still that Super Woman mentality or there's this idea that nobody is gonna get it. I can speak from the track and field experience.

Dr. Joy: Got it. What advice or tips do you have for athletes to take their mental health seriously?

Natasha: All I can say is it’s okay. It's okay to say that I need help. And I think whether it's in school, whether it's your parents or your coaches or whoever you have to find, to find those resources. Because I think that can also be challenging too–where do I even know where to go? I wouldn't have known anything about a sports psychologist until I got to college and Coach Frye said, hey, you want to talk to someone? And I was like what do you mean? But we're seeing it more and more now so I think if you can recognize that, hey, there is someone or something that I would like to talk about, I want to do that. I think I would like to also emphasize even more that mental health is also health. It shows up physically in your body whether you realize it or not, so mental health is your health.

Dr. Joy: How do you check in with yourself?

Natasha: Girl, is this real or did you make this up in your head? When I feel myself start reeling, that is literally the question that I ask myself. Is this a true anxiety? And if it is a true anxiety, what is the unknown that we're worried about? And why are we writing the story without even knowing what the ending could be? I have to ask myself if I'm in reality or did I write this story in my head?

Dr. Joy: That's a good one, I like that. Are there any affirmations that you can offer to athletes struggling with their mental health?

Natasha: Affirmations are actually my best friend and that’s even when I didn't believe them. It’s everything from I am a champion, I am beautiful, I am smart, I am deserving, I am worthy. It’s how I start my day. I think it's unique to you but those are some of the ones that are special to me and some of the ones that I practice. That's how I set the tone for my day. Sometimes at night, if I can't sleep, that's one of my little mantras that I repeat to myself over and over. I am whoever it is that I believe I am or who I want to be.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. Thank you so much for spending some time today with us, Natasha. Please tell us where we can stay updated with your schedule and anything cool and exciting that you will have coming out soon.

Natasha: Thank you. This was painless, I enjoyed this. I keep it real simple, I am Natasha Hastings on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I also have a website, NatashaHastings.com but I'm pretty active on Instagram so you can find me there.

Dr. Joy: As long as y'all are not trolling!

Natasha: Because you will get blocked.

Dr. Joy: Thank you, Natasha.

I'm so glad Natasha was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session256. And be sure to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. If you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.