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Players from the WNBA Seattle Storm and Seattle Sounders FC joined Providence and Providence Swedish experts for a wide ranging panel discussion about mental health.
The athletes discussed how they address the mental and physical demands of professional sports.
Experts shared practical advice for protecting and supporting our own mental health.
Health care workers on the front lines have a lot in common with professional athletes: the work they do is incredibly demanding physically and mentally; their work is truly a team effort; and it takes years of training to develop expertise. However, in health care, wins and losses aren't a game and can have life-altering consequences.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Providence Swedish hosted a live webcast for caregivers on May 22 with players from the WNBA Seattle Storm and MLS Seattle Sounders FC to discuss the importance of addressing our mental health and well-being.
Participants included Steven Stanos, D.O., executive medical director of Swedish Rehabilitation and Performance Medicine; Aileen Hwang, M.D., chief of surgery at Swedish Issaquah; Ezi Magbegor a center on the WNBA Seattle Storm; Fredy Montero, a Seattle Sounders FC forward; and event moderator Arpan Waghray, M.D., CEO of Providence’s Well Being Trust.
They discussed the parallels of working in health care, being in professional sports and what they do to cope with the physical and mental demands of their roles. Below are some of the interview excerpts from the webcast. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Watch the video for the full discussion.
From left: Arpan Waghray, M.D., Aileen Hwang, M.D., WNBA Seattle Storm Center Ezi Magbegor and Seattle Sounders FC Forward Fredy Montero at May 22 mental health panel discussion hosted by Providence Swedish.
Walk us through a typical day in your shoes?
Dr. Aileen Hwang: My days can be a little different. You have predictable days, where I have surgeries, scheduled clinics, and administrative duties. Then there are the unpredictable days where the stressors are the highest. That’s when I’m on call and you just don’t know what you’re going to get. Patients range from being somewhat sick and needing emergent surgery to very ill.
Ezi Magbegor: Preparation starts the day before – getting your mind and body right for the game. A typical game day can be quite stressful. We just had our first game of the season, and I’m playing with a relatively new team as well. This is my fourth season, so I’ve tried to learn how to cope with that stress and do my preparation early instead of being reactive to certain situations.
Fredy Montero: I’ve been playing professional soccer for 17 years now and you can see all the changes through my career. My typical day on game day is so different from what it used to be. Now I don’t try to think about the game. I wake up, have breakfast with my family, take my daughters to school, and do everything but think about the game, because I know when that moment comes, I have to be 100 percent focused. I learned through my earlier years that that’s what brings me stress – thinking if you are prepared enough and doubts coming into your mind – that’s what makes you feel anxious.
How do you address the mental and physical demands of your job?
Ezi: I’m definitely still learning how to deal with those demands. But I think what helps me is leaning on my circle and those around me – my family, friends and whoever you need to keep you grounded. It’s taken a while for me to get there. I didn’t find it easy to reach out and ask people for help. But it’s something I’ll continue to develop going forward in my career.
Fredy: The three things that I focus on the most are my faith, my family and community. Anything can happen in a soccer game. You can win, you can lose or tie the game, but you can’t control that. All you can control is how you approach the game and how you prepare for that moment.
Dr. Hwang: I’m a big pauser. I’ll pause in a moment and just take it in. I’ll say, “that was really cool what we just did.” One of my mentors said, you note something and then you let it go. Meaning you take what just happened, you react to it and do what you need to, and then you move on. You have to be able to do that in stressful situations.
Why does mental health matter to you personally?
Fredy: After the pandemic, things have changed in the world, and community has fallen apart. I’ve been playing soccer [all over], I played in Canada, Portugal, China, and Columbia where I’m from. And in all these countries you have to find the way to get established – having friends, having people around you who are really positive and people who are aware of your weakness and can help you be better as a person.
Ezi: As a professional athlete you deal with mental health a lot. I’ve been a professional athlete for seven years now and it’s something that I think will help my game on the court and be a better teammate, athlete, friend and family member. Mental health is important to me because I struggle with anxiety especially [when I was] growing up, so I think it’s something you want to figure out and find the solution to. It’s a process that’s evolving and everchanging.
Dr. Hwang: When the people you surround yourself with – especially in my line of work – are in their optimal state of mental health, patient outcomes are better. The better I am, the better I am to take care of my patients. You really want people to be the best versions of themselves so they can be the best version for the people they care for, which is want we want when you sign up to be in health care.
What are some practical tips on how others can learn from your experiences to help them take care of their mental health and well-being?
Dr. Hwang: Protecting your time off is very important. It’s me recuperating, sort of a regeneration of my energy so I can come back and be what I need to be at work. Other tips: When you’re in the moment, it’s being confident in your ability knowing that you’ve gotten to where you are for a reason. Also, being able to note something and let it go. We all love what we do, and we all want to be great at what we do. But at the end of the day, we really just want to be good humans. Remember that on the other side of everyone there is this human as well.
Ezi: As female basketball players, we play year-round. I was playing in Hungary before the WNBA season, I came straight here, I had a week before training camp. The year is pretty full and you kind of get no breaks. So, I think for me a tip would be able to pause and reflect, whether it’s the season you just had or the achievements you made. Take a moment to reflect and give yourself a pat on the back. I think that’s really important and will go a long way.
Fredy: Sleep well, exercise and be sure of who you are. Your identity means a lot. All the comments that come to you from the outside or voices screaming at you from the inside won’t damage you as a person. When you go the whole year to the championship final, and you lose, you think you did all that hard work for nothing. But if you remember everything it took to get there and all the moments – getting together with the team, getting closer to people – for me it’s not looking at it as a failure. It’s about looking at how much you grow during this journey. Those memories are going to last forever.
Providence Swedish is the official health care partner of the Seattle Storm and Seattle Sounders FC. Our medical teams, led by Michael Erickson, M.D., and Troy Henning, D.O., respectively, provide state-of-the art sports medicine care to players to help them manage acute injuries, maximize rehabilitation and training, prevent injuries and navigate general health needs.
Learn more and find a provider
To learn more about the mental health resources available to you, contact Swedish Behavioral Health and Wellbeing. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual appointments.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.