Coronavirus: Talking Emotional Self-Care In A Stressful Time

MILTON, MA – Ivy Watts is used to making a connection with an audience member who can relate to her very personal story of being a former Division 2 All-American track and field athlete, with a 3.98 grade-point average, who struggled with feelings of anxiety, depression and the intense fear of failure while at the University of New Haven.

These days the Waltham High alumna and public speaker, who began the blog “Beautifully Simply You” in 2018 to help young athletes in a similar place embrace self-worth and self-love, has the task of trying to make that connection through a computer screen amid the new coronavirus health emergency during remote seminars like the one scheduled for May 13 as part of the The Milton Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition webinar series.

“It’s been interesting to do it virtually,” Watts told Patch “It’s weird not having the response from the audience. You make jokes and you don’t know if anyone is laughing.”

Watts said she is getting the hang of it through using the chat box function to help with the interaction, and tailoring some of her message to those who may have gone from worrying they are failing up to live up to expectations in a crowd, to those who are searching to maintain self-worth on their own amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing.

“Instead of saying ‘by the show of hands’ I will ask people to put a hashtag sign in the chat box if they have ever had a fear of failure, or a star if they have ever felt stress,” said Watts, who is Mental Health First Aid certified. “In some ways, it’s better because it almost takes away that layer of fear that people have of speaking out in a group, and having people know them. This way they can just react in the chat box and be interactive that way.”

Watts is one of four “speakers” as part of the MSAPC series “Milton Learns Together: Webinar Wednesdays” in hopes of helping residents use their time at home wisely and productively through opportunities to learn more about emotional self-care and the proper caring of loved ones during a stressful time.

Jon Mattleman will host “Teens, Tweens and Quarantines” on May 6 at 7 p.m. Watts will host “There is No Health Without Mental Health” on May 13 at 7 p.m. Stormy Leung and Mary Cole will host “Hidden in Plain Sight” on May 20 at 7 p.m. Joanne Peterson will host “Learn to Cope” on May 27 at 7 p.m.

“MSAPC has lined up some terrific speakers, on a variety of topics ranging from emotional health to substance use, to help support the well-being of our residents,” said Laurie Stillman, Director of the Coalition.

Watts, who has spoken to high school and college teams throughout the country, held a remote session Friday through the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association with state athletic administrators on how to help ensure the emotional health of their athletes after the spring athletic season was officially canceled that day.

“We have to tell them that it’s OK to let people know you are struggling and that there are people who will help you get through,” she said. “We want people to know they are not alone. One of the big things is always: It’s OK not to be OK.”

She said that includes feelings of regret related to experiences lost to the coronavirus shutdowns.

“I’ve talked with students who tell me that they feel selfish that they feel bad they are missing sports, and their prom, or graduation, when other people are dying,” Watts said. “But I tell them not to feel selfish. That is part of self-care. You can be upset about those things for yourself and still be compassionate about others.”

Watts recently launched a module for the mental health support of students and athletics during COVID-19, and beyond, designed to help manage anxiety, deal with loss of connection or identifying and finding positives.

Watts said many athletes use sports, and their social connections through them, as a coping mechanism. With those connections suddenly, feelings of loneliness and isolation are natural. But one of her themes is that athletes should not be defined by their sports, or solely their accomplishments on the courts, track or playing fields, and that this pause in society might give them a chance to examine things about themselves that will be benefit them in the long run.

“So many athletes identify themselves only through their sport and they have a hard time at the end of high school, or college, when that sport ends,” Watts said. “This may be a time to think about what about that sport made you feel that way. Was it the validation? Was it the interaction? Then you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and find other things in your life that can make you feel the same way.

“This will allow these student-athletes to do some of that work now so they have a head start when their athletic careers come to an end,” she concluded.

(If you have a story of a local business or organization that is looking to lend a hand to those in need during the new coronavirus pandemic,or lift spirits amid social distancing and isolation, Patch wants to let people in your community know about it. Contact Scott Souza at to help us spread the positives during this uncertain time.)

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