Jul 28, 2021

Champion gymnast Simone Biles’ decision yesterday to walk away from the Olympic competition showed us that sometimes “mental toughness” means knowing when you’ve had enough.

Simone, we support your decision – and we’ve got your back.

In stepping away from the contest, Simone said that the stress of the pandemic and the competition itself affected her mental well being, leaving her vulnerable to injury and mistakes. Her decision to prioritize her mental and physical health reminds us of similar steps taken by tennis star Naomi Osaka, who chose to withdraw from the French Open earlier this year rather than face stressful press events required for her participation.

We don’t all play for such high stakes, but we know that feeling of being in over our head. Stepping away to take a deep breath keeps us safe, and it’s the first step toward regaining mental wellness.

Many things make us more vulnerable to the impact of stress, including existing mental health problems, grief and loss, childhood experiences, nutrition and sleep. Simone and Naomi may also have been affected by the additional stresses caused by racism and discrimination, and their decisions bravely confronted stereotypes that athletes should “push through” physical and emotional pain.

Whatever the reasons for distress, knowing when we’re not okay helps us protect and maintain our mental health – and that’s what gives us the strength and energy, eventually, to pursue what matters most to us.

One more thing about mental toughness: It’s not a quality, it’s a skill set. Learning to feel and regulate anxiety, frustration, and disappointment are skills that we can all learn, or at least get better at, when we have information and support. If you’d like to learn more or find resources to help, our #JustAsk initiative is a good place to start.

Simone’s decision will no doubt have ripple effects and is a poignant end to BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, which encouraged us all to take extra time to consider the mental health and wellness of communities of color. Simone, thanks for leading the way.

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