Getting Your Head Out of the Game and into Relaxation

If you’re an athlete, you’re familiar with all the highs and lows that come with playing the sport you love. On one hand, playing—and better yet, winning—is exhilarating, and exercising and training is amazing for your overall health.

But on the other hand, you may be under a lot of pressure and stress. If you’re an elite athlete, you are constantly pressured by parents or coaches to keep out-doing yourself. If you’re a student, you have to keep up your grades all while attending mandatory practice and training. If you’re new to your sport, you might feel like you haven’t made any friends or bonded with your teammates yet. And these are only a few of the stressful scenarios that come with playing a sport. 

Luckily, if you’re an athlete experiencing stress—you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll walk you through the stress you’re going through by discussing:

  • The kinds of stress you may experience and their consequences
  • How you can ease the burden of your stress

Defining Stress in Athletes

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Everything is good for you in moderation.” This is an important sentiment to keep in mind as an athlete. Because while physical activity is good for you, you shouldn’t be pushing your body—or your mind—too far, too frequently.  

If you attend a weekly pickup game or play in a casual sports league, you likely don’t feel massive athletic stress. In fact, this experience is likely a de-stressor for you—merely a way to get in some exercise or escape from office life.  

It could be said that, the more you’re involved in a sport, the more potential risk there is for stress. This applies to Olympians, D1 athletes, and middle school league-rs alike—especially as sports programs grow younger and younger.

Here are a few ways that sports create stress for athletes:

  • Worrying due to the pressure of parents, peers, coaches, and the community
  • Creating a need to keep “moving up” or out-performing yourself
  • Basing too much of your sense of self and identity on the sport you play

When your entire sense of self is rooted in your sport, it could be catastrophic when you are disappointed or feel you are “failing.” You are always more than just an athlete, and your worth extends beyond the field.

And here are a few possible risks when this stress piles up:

  • Burnout
  • Depresion
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Immune deficiencies
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Diarrhea 

Major League Stress to Major League Chill

When you spend so much of your time at practice or team cross-training sessions, it may feel like there is no room to take care of yourself or manage your stress. We said “moderation,” right? 

The good news: you absolutely don’t need to quit in order to manage your stress. 

There are several options for you to seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of your sport. Remember that acknowledgement and acceptance of your current mental state are the first key steps to getting better.

Dr. Steve Graef, a sports and performance psychologist at The Ohio State University, recommends his ABCs for athletes:

  • A: Acceptance, acknowledgement, appreciation for whatever is going on. Acknowledge stressful times, accept these feelings, and appreciate where you are.
  • B: Breathe. It is important to engage in the breath and slow down our minds. Practicing mindfulness comes in quite handy in this step.
  • C: Choosing what to think, feel, or do next. This varies by individual. If you need help figuring out what to do, consider confiding in a close friend, or better yet, psychotherapist or sports psychologist.

You’re Not Alone

The wonderful thing about playing sports is that, no matter the pressure you may feel from them, you are immersed in a community of people who care about you and want to see you succeed in the sport you do best. This could be anyone in your community—teammates, coaches, trainers, or others. They are always a resource to you. 

However, nothing beats the perspective of an unbiased psychology professional. So if you’re feeling stressed, make sure to enlist the help of a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist near you.

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