Laurie Hernandez on Prioritizing Her Mental Health After Journey to 2020 Olympics Was Extended
The Olympian is guest hosting an episode of mental health research nonprofit One Mind's Brain Waves live webcast show
For most Olympic athletes, years of training are carefully scheduled to reach their peak every four years, before the games. Of course, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed, adding another year onto the journey to a gold medal.
"To get ready and to kind of rev everything up just for it to shut down and realize you're going to have another year of kind of doing that, that can feel really daunting," gymnast Laurie Hernandez tells PEOPLE.
The 20-year-old says her "initial reaction" to the coronavirus-caused postponement was "terrified."
"I didn't know what was going to happen next," Hernandez explains. "I didn't know if I was going to stop or if I was going to keep going, and that felt really stressful."
So Hernandez has spent a lot of this year prioritizing how to best deal with that stress and her overall mental health, which she'll discuss as guest host of mental health research nonprofit One Mind’s Brain Waves live webcast show on Friday at 3 p.m. EST. Brain Waves features notable mental health experts and brain scientists in conversation and streams on One Mind’s Facebook page.
The athlete — who won gold with the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2016 Rio Olympics — will open up about using digital mental health apps during the pandemic with Dr. Stephen Schueller, executive director of One Mind PsyberGuide, and associate professor of psychological science, UC Irvine; and Martha Neary, project manager at One Mind PsyberGuide. The show is hosted by Brandon Staglin, the president of One Mind.
"Mental health has always been a really important part of my life," Hernandez tells PEOPLE. "My mom is a social worker and a therapist, my sister's a therapist, and especially being a professional athlete, I've had my fair share of sharing my biggest fears and learning how to cope with them."
She continues, "So when I had the opportunity to come with One Mind and speak on their podcast and be a guest host, I immediately said yes, because pretty much anything to do with mental health feels like home for me, and I hope I can help other people feel that way too."
Hernandez says she hopes listeners will take away the importance of not "stigmatizing mental health."
"Seeing a bunch of people just openly talk about apps that we're using and ways that we're caring for our emotional and mental wellbeing, I hope other people can learn from that," she says. "And I hope when we're talking, you can feel how excited we are to share all this information with you, and it'll inspire you to take those extra steps to make sure you're doing okay too."
The athlete has been relying on open communication with her "inner circle" during self-isolation, she says.
"[I've been] definitely communicating with my friends and with my family and letting them in — which can be a scary thing — but I know they all have my back," Hernandez says. "So it's been really helpful to go ahead and be positive about the future because of them."
Watch One Mind’s Brain Waves live webcast show on Friday at 3 p.m. EST.
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