The Los Angeles Rams partnered with EVERFI's Character Playbook to kick off the first installment of a virtual Mental Health Series for 575 students in the LA region. The students, ranging from grades six through nine, were able to join a 45-minute virtual panel discussion with Rams offensive lineman David Edwards and Rams Sports Psychologist Carrie Hastings.
Throughout the first discussion, students defined what mental health is, differentiated between stress and anxiety, identified the symptoms, and learned tips on how to manage their mental health in everyday life. Mental health can seem so broad as there are many facets and parts that make it up. However, Dr. Hastings sought to simplify it.
"Mental health is really the other component in terms of total wellness," Dr. Hastings explained. "You've got physical health, but then the mental health side of things incorporates your feelings, how you think, your emotions, how you feel, and how you interact with others – so there's that social component too, which is so influential on your daily functioning…Mental health is the hallmark of being human. It's what sets us apart from other living species."
Hastings also explained that there are two things that can negatively affect stress and anxiety. Stress is caused by and dependent on something external – work, school, finances, etc. Something must cause you to stress. Anxiety is persistent worrying whether there is a stressor or not. The ways that we deal with mental health issues is not a "one size fits all" approach. One must pay attention to their body and habits as the first signs may show up physically. Eating habits can fluctuate, some people may experience headaches, and your sleeping habits may falter - like Edwards who shared that sleep was a coping mechanism during his college days.
"For me when I get super stressed or anxious…I sleep a lot. When I was in college, I would come home from practice and take a two-hour nap and then try to wake up and go to class and I was just groggy and didn't feel good. It was just this constant feeling of never feeling good – mentally or physically."
To combat negative thoughts and build solid mental health, we can take back control by focusing on the things we can control, like watching our breathing in stressful situations. Edwards spoke of a specific time of uncertainty during his collegiate career at Wisconsin.
"I had a really good season in 2017. And then in 2018, I had an injury and wasn't playing really well and sought some help with our sports psychologist at Wisconsin. She gave me some tools that are really simple, and breathing was one of the huge pieces of that puzzle. The next one was trying to be present in the moment and learn how to put things into perspective. For me at least, I tend to look down the road at the things in the future. When in reality, that's a waste of time for you to get stressed and anxious about because you have no control over it. So, (I'm) trying to live my life in the present, focus on the task at hand and the things in the moment. And then when things do get hard, slow yourself down. Slow your breathing down. Try to do some mindfulness techniques as you go on through your day," said Edwards.
Dr. Hastings reiterated the importance of breathing.
"There is a right and a wrong way to breathe when you're trying to decrease stress and learn how to lower your breath, slow it down, and control it, which can allow you to have control over things and situations that one may find stress-inducing," said Dr. Hastings. "Other steps include being grateful and being mindful of your surroundings."
According to Edwards, verbalizing your own thoughts and hearing your own thoughts and anxieties out loud can help put things into perspective as well. With the help of someone like Dr. Hastings, it allows one to have the space to reflect, be able to process what's going on and find solutions.
"For me, what I learned was verbalizing my own thoughts that are kind of tucked away…to be able to have her be a soundboard and give me tools or put things into perspective for me is why I think working with her has made me a better person and a better player."
Hastings also suggested breaking things down into achievable steps in pursuit of a goal because building mental health is a daily and situational process. Edwards concurred with, "Find little things throughout your day that are positive and give you kind of a sense of accomplishment."
Towards the end of the session, students had the opportunity to ask questions to Hastings and Edwards.
"How are we supposed to be patient with ourselves and also accomplish everything we want to do in life?" asked a student.
Without hesitation, Edwards said, "I think being patient with yourself has to stem from the acceptance of failure. I think a lot of times, younger kids see professional athletes like Lebron James, and they see the triumph and all the success that he has, and they don't see the struggle. They don't see the failure that goes into it. When you say, 'being patient with yourself,' I think that has to do with allowing yourself to fail and being ok with failure, because you're able to learn from that along the journey."
The panel ended with wellness tips from Dr. Hastings and David Edwards.
"I challenge everyone to start practicing at least once a day, exercising gratitude in a very concrete, deliberate way," said Dr. Hastings. "You could write it down, you can just pause and reflect on something specific that you're grateful for…if you can start doing that once a day, it will enhance your overall functioning and well-being and it just feels good and it's a reminder that even when things are not going well – one of my favorite mantras is 'Things can always be worse and if they can't be any worse, they can only get better.'"
Edwards also encouraged students to be physically active as a way to manage stress and anxiety.
"My challenge to you guys is to sweat once every day. The reason I say that is because so often when I'm stressed and anxious, I find that physical activity makes me feel so much better and there are so many physiological scientific data to back that up with your endorphins and your brain chemistry. If you take 15 minutes, 30 minutes a day…just to get a little bit of sweat going, I think that that makes things way easier to manage stress and anxiety…"
For more information about the Rams' community outreach programs, please visit www.therams.com/community.