Gloria Estefan has always been known for her strength. But it was her mother’s death that finally led the eight-time Grammy winner to accept professional help.
After the death of her mother Gloria Fajardo in 2017, Estefan found herself emotionally challenged. Although she’s been through several traumatic things in her life, ranging from a horrific bus accident in 1990 that left her with a broken back, to childhood sexual abuse, it wasn’t until her mother’s death that she realized the importance of dealing with your mental health.
“I understood therapy and I knew the value of it. Despite the fact that I went through a lot of difficult things in my life, I didn’t feel like I needed therapy at the time,” Estefan said at the 2023 Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston on Tuesday. “I needed him after I lost my mother.”
Estefan also said she’s “really worked over the last few years” to find peace and hopes to create a dialogue about mental health work — especially for young people.
“I think it’s very important nowadays, as I see anxiety rising in our youth, to focus on our mental health because there’s a lot of information, a lot of negativity, a lot of difficult things. We have to learn to tune it out,” she added.
In addition to therapy, Estefan credits the practice of meditation (“It’s helpful for me because it quiets those voices that we all hear all the time”) and a willingness to turn off the news when she’s overwhelmed. “I focus on the things that make me happy: my family, my grandson – he’s 10 years old and he’s the light of my life and spending time with him is the most amazing thing for me. That’s why I put the phone aside,” Estefan said.
In addition to her more recent challenges, Estefan, who became the first Hispanic woman inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in January, explained that a 1990 bus accident made her rise up and find strength within herself . With a badly broken back, doctors doubted she would ever walk again.
“Another millimeter and my cord would have broken,” shared Estefan, who had to “grieve my body that was no longer there.” She fell into a deep depression when she realized that she could not climb a single step by herself.
“I couldn’t turn around, I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t be alone,” said Estefan, who gave herself about 10 days to cry. “And then I said, ‘You know what? Okay, that’s enough. I gave myself enough of a pity party. What should I do?”
Estefan made herself get out of bed every morning and focused on setting small goals each day.
“I will go to the door today. Then I’ll go out to the hallway. Then I’ll go outside my house eventually, go down the driveway or go around,” she told herself. She spent the first three months swimming in the pool as she couldn’t do much else. She ended up doing six to seven hours a day of rehab and was able to resume her music career. These days, she calls herself “titanium-enhanced” because of the 8-inch rods welded to the sides of her spine.
After all, Estefan says her family keeps her grounded these days. But when it comes to keeping her head on straight, Estefan says making sure her ego is in check is one of the most important lessons.
“Sometimes ego gets in the way of people’s ascension. Ego is a waste of time, ladies,” she noted. “There’s really no room for that. But if we always come from a place of strength, kindness, openness and inclusion – that’s a much better way to lead.”