LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif.—When an NBA superstar gets injured it makes sports media headlines, with fans devouring intimate details about which ligament was torn or which toe bone was broken. What’s less known is the mental toll on an elite athlete from playing at the highest level and enduring the media circus surrounding it.
“Joy is something we tend to get away from as professionals,” Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant told Arianna Huffington Tuesday at the closing session of Fortune‘s third-annual Brainstorm Health conference. “I took my joy for the game for granted. It became a job for me up until a few years ago.”
The nine-time NBA All-Star and 2017 Finals MVP said that it was during his time away from the game—in 2015 when he spent a year out with a foot injury—that he figured out how to find joy on and off the court.
“I had a lot of time to think and figure stuff out, figure myself out, because my whole life was basketball,” he said. “Throughout that time I learned to separate the two.”
Durant says a social media hiatus in 2017, taken after it was discovered he had secret social media accounts to respond to fan criticism, also changed his outlook for the better. “I got off Twitter and Instagram because I was getting addicted to it,” he acknowledged. “It was part of my everyday routine to a point where I was letting whatever I’d seen affect me on a day-to-day basis. I was getting upset about a comment or what someone said. It was really affecting my day. I wasn’t the same person.”
“I took a couple of weeks off, not even looking at posts or comments, and I just felt so free. I felt like this was the real world.”
The hiatus was short-lived, of course, and Durant is back on Twitter and Instagram and other social media networks, using the platforms as many pro athletes do: To bypass the sports press (which he called “a joke”) and reach fans directly. The difference this time is that Durant has developed a thicker skin to the negative comments that inevitably arrive from the other direction.
“Now,” Durant said, “The stuff that made me upset, I laugh about.”
For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, click here.