BEREA, Ohio — Anthony Schwartz’s breaking point came in August, after the Browns’ final preseason game against the Chicago Bears.
Schwartz, a sophomore receiver looking to carve out a consistent role in the Browns’ offense, had just dropped two assists, bringing his total to five stray runs in just three preseason games. While the Browns have always emphasized that they still believe in Auburn’s fast receiver, he knew what was being said about him on social media and the vitriol thrown at him.
Worse still, he could feel the crushing pressure he was putting on himself.
“I was just in the locker room like I was about to collapse, I was almost having a panic attack,” Schwartz told cleveland.com on Friday. “Things like this just triggered where I was, I need help. Because otherwise it’s not going to be fun for me, and it can really affect my life.
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Thus began Schwartz’s journey over the past three months to improve his mental health and deal with the anxiety that plagued him on the pitch. It’s a journey he now wants to share for the first time, starting with the NFL’s annual My Cause My Cleats charity campaign this Sunday. Schwartz will wear custom cleats representing the United Way of Greater Cleveland as the Browns take on the Texans.
There’s no denying that the start of the season hasn’t been easy for Schwartz. The opening week of training camp, he sprained his knee and missed just over a week of action. It was the second year in a row that his pre-season was affected by injury. The third-round pick has missed most of the offseason and training camp heading into the 2021 season with a hamstring injury and also missed three games last year with a concussion. cerebral.
Recovering from that knee injury in camp and finding a rhythm was undoubtedly a major source of stress at the start of his second year, but there was also a matter of heightened expectations.
Since arriving in the NFL, Schwartz has been known for his speed and football IQ — but he also needs development to catch the ball. We then understand why these pre-season declines weighed so heavily on him.
“Going into the second year, I know that a lot was expected of me,” he said. “So I feel like I’ve done too much in my head, and in that moment it kind of fell apart. It felt like the whole world fell apart at some point.
When Schwartz was at rock bottom, after that post-game breakdown, he knew it was time to get some help.
His first stop was to talk about it with the Browns’ sports psychologist, Dr. Mayur Pandya.
“I kind of went through a rough patch, coming back from an injury and not functioning the way I thought I could and from then on,” Schwartz said. “I was sort of into a funk. He helped me out. »
Talking about his struggles on the court and his anxiety helped, as did other common anxiety reduction tactics.
Schwartz, like many of his Browns teammates, has taken to meditation. He meditates alone the night before every Browns game and with Pandya on the day of every game. Her goal in the future is also to try daily meditation.
“It just helps me calm down, calm my anxiety, calm everything down so I can just go out and play,” Schwartz said.
It’s also very focused on mindfulness, a common technique used in talk therapy that aims to focus your attention on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or what lies ahead.
Schwartz was so focused on improving for the future and not dropping passes that the pressure was causing the opposite effect – like a batter at home plate who wants to hit a home run so badly that he ends up remove.
“Just kind of a step back to be like, just enjoying what’s going on right now,” Schwartz said. “Don’t worry about the next game or what happened in the last game. Only worry about yourself. Whether you’re on the bench, don’t even worry about what’s going on right now. Just enjoy the moment and enjoy it, because when it’s gone, you’ll regret not enjoying it.
In addition to these therapeutic techniques, there has also been a major change in habit: learning to block what is said about him on social networks.
Schwartz admits that early in the season, social media criticism of those stray bullets carried him. But as he struggled to deal with his anxiety, he realized that his own performance should be his top priority, not what people were saying about it.
“It’s gotten to a point where I’m just kind of like, let’s focus on me, like all the outside noise, just block it out,” he said. “And it’s a bit whether it’s on social media or in the game, it’s kind of letting go. Let them be and I will control what I can control.
The fact that Schwartz only got support from the Browns as an organization, his teammates and more, helped.
Swing tackle Chris Hubbard himself has been open about his mental health struggles. An ambassador for the National Mental Illness Alliance, he created the Overcoming Together Foundation, which will be represented on his own cleats this week. Schwartz said Hubbard was key in helping him realize it was okay to ask for help.
“Chris Hubbard, he’s a great advocate for mental health, and that got me to this point,” Schwartz said. “It’s something I have to take seriously and something that can really help me improve and help me get that confidence back.
“I appreciate all of my teammates. They’ve all been by my side to help me keep my confidence. Building me up whether it’s in the game, in training or just by seeing me. Just put an arm around me and say, ‘We trust you. We have you. We need you.’ I really appreciated that from everyone.
The Browns coaching staff have also never expressed doubt in Schwartz, with head coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt being adamant in the preseason that Schwartz would turn things around and bounce back from those firsts. drops.
Wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea has also had a big impact on how Schwartz views his anxiety, given that the receiver room has weekly discussions about mental health, book recommendations included.
These talks in particular helped Schwartz learn to block out outside noise.
“I was very supportive of Anthony,” O’Shea said. “The best thing about all of this is that everyone is in agreement. Everyone is very strong on it. The receivers have done an excellent job of being very active in this area. It’s something we talk about daily in our room, it’s the importance of the spirit when it comes to your performance on the pitch.
And about that on-court performance: Schwartz may be finding a giant leap forward now that his mental health has become a priority.
He’s really embraced a role on special teams, playing most of those snaps on kick return and punt return, but also appearing on punt and kick coverage units.
And by getting a few looks on offense last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he showed he can still make big plays. It was Schwartz who got the Browns on the board with a big 31-yard backhand, his first touchdown of the year. He then received praise from Stefanski.
“I’m really proud of him,” Stefanski said. “Anthony played at a very high level, we have a ton of confidence in him and I think he will continue to help this team win.”
It hasn’t been a perfect trip. He was eliminated healthy against the Ravens on October 23 for the first time in his career. He also had two drops this regular season, both to the New England Patriots. But the biggest development is that he was able to move on and stay in the present, taking small incremental steps of improvement.
“Special teams, offense, not having to think about 30 million things that cross my mind because that can add to the anxiety as well,” he said. “It just simplified everything in my mind so I could just go out there and perform. I don’t have to worry about this or that, I just worry about my role.
Schwartz has come a long way since that near-panic attack in the Browns locker room in August. He not only acknowledged he had a problem, but took meaningful steps to fix it, the same way he would adjust a route he was riding or get extra reps on a JUGS machine.
Although his mental health journey may not have been easy to start, Schwartz is happy to be here now.
And by choosing to speak out, he hopes to show others that the journey isn’t as scary or impossible as it first seems.
“Just to show people that your sanity is a real thing,” Schwartz said. “Like it’s not just a made up story that people are trying to call out. It’s a real thing. Because if you’re depressed, if you’re anxious, it can really affect you, not just on the pitch but in life. And that’s just one thing I want to show that we athletes go through that too. And that if you’re an athlete, you’re not alone in that, everyone goes through something and don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t be afraid to find a solution. Because otherwise you’ll just be into this funk.
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