Nicole is relaunching her fitness brand, Tribe Therepe, to encourage "feel-good fitness"
When fitness guru and content creator Kayla Nicole was going through a difficult period after a breakup last summer, she says starting talk therapy became "an a-ha moment" for her.
As someone who always relied on physical fitness as a release for emotional stress, Nicole, 31, tells PEOPLE she turned to therapy when she was "in the best shape of" her life, but still felt "miserable on the inside."
"I genuinely say this and mean this — I don't like who I am when I don't work out," Nicole says, revealing that she prefers to knock out a workout first thing in the morning. "I'm naturally an anxious person. I've had some bouts with depression, and honestly, my fitness world has saved my life on numerous occasions."
But when she was dealing with "a major breakup and major life change" last summer, the former Los Angeles Lakers in-game reporter says she learned, "It's one thing to be physically fit, but it's another thing to be mentally fit."
Nicole, who was in an on-again, off-again relationship with NFL player Travis Kelce for five years, says it became a challenge to maintain her authenticity as a fitness influencer — a title she never uses to describe herself. Still, "I know I am one," she adds.
"It was like I was working out, I was in really great shape, but I felt like sh-- and I was sad, and I was having a hard time getting out of bed. It got to the point where I was like, 'Okay, what else can I possibly do?' So, I started to go to therapy," she shares.
The soon-to-be host of an upcoming sports and fashion-themed podcast says she struggled with major sleep and digestive issues before finding success with her therapist.
"Just full transparency, I went through this major breakup, major life change, and I had lost a substantial amount of weight within a very short amount of time. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't eating. I was really abusing melatonin to sleep at night," she says.
Although she "was still working out" during that time, updates to social media led to confusing feedback from her followers. "I'm posting content and people are like, 'You look so good. Tell us your tricks. You look amazing.' And I'm like, 'I'm miserable. I'm miserable. I'm depressed,' " Nicole admits. "My abs were amazing, I had a six-pack. And it was like, 'I had never felt so bad in my life.' "
She continues, "So, I started going to therapy and quickly realized, okay, it's one thing to be physically fit, but it's another thing to be mentally fit. You could be in the best shape of your life, but mentally, if you are not a healthy person, it's not going to feel good."
Finding success with talk therapy inspired Nicole to incorporate the tools she's learned into her fitness content, and now she's "really excited" for her brand, Tribe Therepe, to "enter a new chapter" focused on "feel-good fitness."
"It's focusing on the mental health component of working out, which is really, really important for me and really resonates with me, and really just encouraging people to mentally take care of themselves," says, explaining, "I think that when your mind is in a healthy place, your body will follow."
Tribe Therepe also hopes to help those who may not be able to afford traditional therapy, Nicole says, noting: "Therapy is 1000% a luxury, and I get that. So, I really want to provide just almost, like, a therapy resource for people that doesn't require any money."
Instead, Nicole says Tribe Therepe "will hopefully give you some nuggets that I've learned from therapy that will help you to be a better person all the way around."
Looking back, Nicole says she'd tell the version of herself from last year to "listen to your therapist a little bit more," especially now that she's been able to see the progress she's made. "I'm so thankful for therapy because had I not done that, I don't know how I would be reacting in the moment right now. No clue," she adds.
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Nicole and Kelce first started dating in 2017 before the couple officially called it quits in May 2022. Amid the media frenzy over Kelce's budding romance with singer Taylor Swift, Nicole says she has unfairly become a target for online trolls and negative attention.
Another message Nicole would have told herself last summer: "Buckle the f--- up, sweetie," she says. "You thought the worst had already come, but buckle up and take all of the tools right now and put them in your bag because you're going to need them."
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