Ep. 28: Venus Williams talks self care and mental health

December 17, 2021

Venus Williams is nothing less than a legend in sports and a titan in tennis. She’s won Wimbledon five times and the U.S. Open twice. Plus she’s achieved 49 career singles titles and won three Olympic gold medals.

So, it’s encouraging, to say the least, to hear such a powerful athlete like Venus take time to talk about one of today’s most important topics: mental health.

“Mental health and self care are so important. And I am glad there’s a bigger conversation happening right now,” Venus said in our Zoom interview last month.

Williams gives some of the credit about a louder mental health conversation to both fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka as well as Olympic gymnast Simone Biles. On top of speaking up herself, Venus has also decided to team up with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and BetterHelp, an online portal that provides direct-to-consumer access to mental health services.

Starting last month the WTA and BetterHelp began offering a month of free therapy for anyone interesting in connecting with a licensed professional. Venus has taken on the role as the lead pitch woman.

Venus also said the digital aspect of BetterHelp’s portal is a game changer.

“Being able to reach people on their phones or on their laptops is the way to connect people now with services that they really do need. I’m very excited that addressing mental health needs (has become) easy to do.”

MONTREAL – AUGUST 10: Venus Williams of USA in her Final match loss to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland at the 2014 Rogers Cup on August 10, 2014 in Montreal, Canada

The first time I got to speak with Venus was in 2018, right before the U.S. Open, in an interview for Forbes.

At the time, I asked Venus about the fact that she often gets asked unusual questions by ambitious reporters. I brought it up again this time around, and in both instances she laughed.

“Yeah, it’s something that’s not easy to navigate and something you have to deal with.”

She acknowledged that part of Osaka’s reason for withdrawing from the 2021 French Open had to do in part with aggressive media. Yet, Venus says that each player has their own way of handling pressure.

“I’ve been there with them when (media are) after you, both when you’re on top of the world and when you’re down. constitution, we don’t come from the same households and cultures. We don’t respond the same ways.”

NEW YORK – AUGUST 29, 2013: Grand Slam champions Serena Williams and Venus Williams during their first round doubles match at US Open 2013 at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York

When it comes to handling the pressures of top-flight tennis as well as celebrity, Williams says that for her—just like for anyone else—self care is a a priority.

TV comedies and a little Britney Spears

Outside of tennis, Venus says she aims to set a schedule, “keep it super, super simple,” and set boundaries. She also says self care, recovery and sleep are things she makes time for and are “not negotiable.”

When I asked what exactly she likes to do to unwind, she mentioned basic things like watching TV comedies before bed. But she also has a taste for PBS.

“Never anything that’s stressful, usually a half-hour comedy,” is best, Williams said. “I’ve recently been watching Downton Abbey, too, and it’s really, really good.”

As for music, she’s got particular tastes as well.

“Usually anything but pop and Top 40 or the Billboard 100—it’s not my thing. But, Britney Spears—well, that’s probably the big exception. Britney and Justin Timberlake I do like.”

In Episode 28 of the podcast, Venus shares her thoughts about the athlete’s role in changing heart and minds. Plus she shares her opinions about self care and de-stigmatizing conversations around mental health.

Read my most recent Forbes.com interview with Venus Williams here.

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