Sport Psychologist Dr. Marissa Norman Visits FOX 5 New York

Read the Q&A from Fox 5 News Good Day hosts Rosanna Scotto and Bianca Peters as they discuss Simone Biles, mental health and the Olympics with Dr. Marissa Norman.

Good Day Wakeup asks Dr. Marissa a Few Questions about Simone Biles and Mental Health in Sports.

Below is the Q&A of the live interview held on July 29th, 2021 on Fox 5 News

Let’s talk a little bit about what she’s going through [Simone Biles] because we’re hearing so many different things. First, yesterday, there was something called twisties? Do you know what twisties is?

It’s really, I think, an experience of a stress response. [In] our stress response when we are experiencing stress, we might experience muscle tension. We might experience tingling in our limbs. We might experience difficulties concentrating and it’s an experience that takes us outside of our body. It’s really difficult when we’re having that experience to feel our body [and] to know where our body is in space. It’s very dangerous as Simone has mentioned. Her [Biles] decision was a result of safety. It can be really unsafe competing in that experience as competing in gymnastics is [an] already risky sport, adding that layer on can make it even more challenging.

Yesterday Simone [Biles] re-tweeted a friend’s tweet where the friend basically gives her some room to deal with the things that are going on in her [Biles] head right now and had mentioned the name Larry Nassar who has been convicted of sexual abuse. Do you think that kind of played into the trauma, [or] the stress competing right now?

I don’t know for sure, but it absolutely can be a factor. I think we are all aware of a lot of the adversities that Simone had faced in her life. Nasser is an example, foster care is another example and then sprinkle on top of that the challenges, [and] the pressures associated with the Olympics. I think they are all contributing factors to what we are seeing here.

Rory McIlroy who’s a golfer who won gold for men’s golf… he tweeted something else and responded to SimoneBiles saying, “I 100% agree with what Simone is doing. If you don’t feel 100% right mentally, that is an injury too.” What are your thoughts on that?

Absolutely. In a lot of ways our mental injury is that invisible injury. It’s often times overlooked unless we know the signs [or] unless we know what to look for. He [McIlroy] is absolutely right with that statement. It is an injury and the more we can normalize that…if Simone twisted her ankle and had a physical injury, I think this would be less of a discussion and the hope for the future is that the same would happen with mental health challenges.

Do you think maybe the pandemic has exacerbated some of these mental dealings that these athletes have to go through?

The pandemic is definitely another factor. Let’s not forget, as a result of the pandemic, the Olympics were pushed. That’s another year of dedication, stress, [and] having to make more sacrifice. Absolutely, that could be a contributing factor.

Everybody’s talking about this is a teaching time for parents to talk to their kids [about] destigmatizing mental health and while I agree with that, there are some critics that are out there saying, “It’s not a teaching time because you shouldn’t encourage people to quit.” How do you walk that fine line?

I think if this became something that we saw Simone [Biles] doing every single meet [then] that would be concerning because that would be a maladaptive coping strategy. Looking at her history [and] looking at her resilience, I think this was her time. This was her time to take that break. I think she made the best decision for herself. I think we have to really put that in context concerning her background, her struggles, and her situation. I think she made the best decision for herself and her team in that moment. I think, again, if we’re seeing this as a repeated habit for athletes, that might be more concerning. We want to prevent that avoidance coping strategy to better deal with mental health challenges.

I’m also wondering [about] the fact that she’s going day-by-day on whether she’s going to compete or not. I feel like she’s [Biles] still keeping a lot of pressure on herself. Do you agree or do you think that she needs this right now to think that she can jump back in there at some point?

I think it’s okay to take it day-by-day just like a physical injury. We don’t know how we’re going to feel in a couple of days and [with] mental health we can work on certain strategies to help us feel better. In a few days, by next week she could feel better enough to compete [but] we just don’t know. Taking it day-by-day and using that time intentionally to take care of herself, she may be able to come back next week so I do think that’s important.

Can you give us one word of advice just for people that [are] not in sports that work everyday jobs that may be dealing with stresses and stuff like that?

Something simple that we can do every day is simply check-in with ourselves. I think we’re constantly “go go go go” that we forget to check-in. “How am I doing today?” “What is it that I need?”... whether that’s a nap, hanging out with friends, [or] exercising. I think the most important thing is being open and willing to ask for help when we need it the most.

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