How to improve mental health while sports are on hold

May 19, 2020

Photo: Getty Images

Needless to say these have been trying times for everyone. With the incidence of mental illness increasing in adolescents prior to the pandemic, it is vital that we listen and support our kids now more than ever. Athletes are no exception! Sports and organized activity provide an outlet for socialization, improve moods and self-esteem, and can even stimulate our immune system. With sports now on hold, these positive effects are impacted and instead, athletes may instead have increased stress or anxiety.

Everyone may present in a different way, whether it is feeling sad, depressed, irritable or anxious; however, the following recommendations can help support us through these challenging times without organized sport: 

  1. Exercise! Stay at home ≠ do not exercise! Even though organized sports are on a break, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue conditioning or drills. Find time to do what makes you happy!  Exercise, even if it’s not sport-specific, can improve your mood.
  2. Stick to a schedule – even in the summer! Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Maintaining a regular schedule is essential for not only for improving anxiety, but also feeling accomplished (something that will help reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms).
  3. Highlight 1 to 3 things that you will definitely accomplish each day. Each day, try to identify a few things that you can accomplish without much time or mental effort. Being able to check off some items every day helps reduce anxiety. Consider small tasks like making your bed each morning or going for a walk.
  4. Fill your day with a few pleasant activities just for you and practice mindfulness during those activities. Avoid constantly being on your phone or spending countless hours on the couch watching TV. These activities likely drive negative emotions — anxiety, depression, boredom, low motivation, etc. Instead, consider things that bring you peace, calm, or even joy. A hot shower, a long walk after dinner, listening to your favorite song, calling a friend, reading a book for pleasure or trying your hand at a new recipe are just a few ideas. Also, ask yourself during those activities how you can be more mindful. Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment without judgement. It’s being aware of what you are doing or not doing.
  5. Consider the best that could happen. Often we immediately consider the worst case scenario when it comes to worry thoughts. Next time you find yourself going down the what-if downward spiral of anxiety, consider asking yourself “What’s the best that could happen?” Reminding yourself that most of the time the worst thing doesn’t happen in life is important. In fact, in most cases, fears are met with positive or neutral outcomes. While it may seem strange to consider the positive aspects, highlighting the potential good that may come out of this scary situation can provide a lot of people with hope in the face of anxiety.

Sports will return soon! Don’t forget we are here to support you during the “break” and beyond.  

Post by:

Kristin M. Ernest, MD

Dr. Ernest welcomes patients of all ages and fitness levels to her clinic.  Her background as an athletic trainer, paramedic and firefighter provides a unique perspective on injury evaluation and treatment.  She appreciates the importance of individualized treatment plans to ensure successful...

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Elizabeth (Liz) Victor Franklin, PhD

Dr. Franklin is a pediatric psychologist that specializes in using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing techniques to address adolescent mental health concerns. Through the Department of Adolescent Medicine she sees patients with mood, anxiety, and eating disorders. Dr....

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