In a bold and unusual move, young phenom Naomi Osaka stunned the tennis world Monday by announcing her withdrawal from the French Open, citing mental health issues.
While other players have left major tournaments midstream, typically because of physical injury, this was different.
In an Instagram post, Osaka noted that she had suffered from depression and social anxiety since playing in a highly stressful US Open back in 2018 and that she goes through “huge waves of anxiety” before she speaks to the media.
Osaka’s response to her own anxiety was a profound exercise in self-care. It is a great lesson for us all, especially as the Covid-19 crisis continues to abate and we navigate heading back into the world.
As for Osaka, some of her colleagues have been gracious and supportive (see Serena Williams wanting to offer her a hug). Others said that tennis stars know well beforehand that conferences with reporters are a part of the professional tennis circuit, and Osaka should either have come prepared or bowed out beforehand.
If only depression and anxiety were so predictable and manageable. But they are not. In all likelihood, Osaka took to the court and the microphone, knowing she would suffer some degree of anxiety but was stunned that she couldn’t manage the situation as she had in the past.
We’ve all been there (or most of us have)
We’re not all professional athletes on the world stage, facing fans and journalists analyzing our every move. But many of us have probably been in a situation with a lot of eyes on us before the pandemic when we practiced our social skills more regularly.
I have been through my share of anxious episodes as an adult, culminating in me walking out of a talk I was delivering — on stress management techniques of all things. Not until I left the building did the panic attack subside.
Through my own therapy, I later learned that this reaction was related to anxiety in my family-of-origin that felt chaotic and unpredictable. Paradoxically, talking about managing stress triggered a stress response in me
Perhaps you’ve frozen up in fear speaking publicly at school or work. Maybe you had to sweat out a high-pressure meeting where your performance held center stage.
Possibly you went through something difficult, a loss or significant life change, that left you anxious or depressed, maybe for the first time.
Or, as some of my clients report, a deep sadness, sense of dread, or profound fear hit you seemingly out of nowhere, leaving you shaken and awaiting the next episode with unfamiliar, uneasy trepidation.
For most of us, an initial bout of depression or anxiety is a shock to the system, and our fear of another episode can feel crippling and life-altering. Many of my clients fear they will never escape these internal, ongoing emotional threats.
It’s also important to note we are not helpless in the face of depression and anxiety, and this fear does not need to be our end game. We can take many steps to manage emotional difficulties, whether they are new or recurring.