Some Physical Activity Each Day Keeps the Doctor and Mental Strain Away!

Samantha Michaels

Infographic of Redwood survey results

People who have worked at home for longer than two weeks are 50 percent more likely to have experienced increased levels of fatigue and sadness, which in turn directly impacts their overall mental health according to a blog on mental health by Qualtrics, an online survey distribution company. After almost nine months of quarantine, this statistic is an all too familiar reality for many students. Although staying at home has led to more free time for most, the repetition of each day has created a seemingly endless cycle of redundancy which correlates directly with motivation or lack thereof. 

For many athletes, this lack of productivity and motivation stems from the abnormality of their new sports season. Practices and games that used to serve as an inspiration to complete homework earlier and an outlet for various stressors are now canceled or largely restricted. The importance of physical activity and team cohesion on an athlete’s motivation and overall mental health is now more prevalent than ever. 

 Dr. Joan Steidinger CMPC (Certified Mental Performance Consultant), a local sports psychologist and a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s registry of sports psychology, understands the extensive risks athletes are facing without physical activity. Since the original cancellation of college sports in May, a study by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) displayed that one in 10 collegiate athletes began to experience extreme symptoms of depression, something that does not come as a surprise to Steidinger.

“There’s a high rate of [athletes] who have underlying depression and anxiety and if they are not getting a lot of exercise, they’re more likely to get more depressed and more anxious,” Steidinger said. 

Smiling at the camera, Emma Carpenter enjoys exploring the local area while she awaits her return to SDSU. (Photo courtesy of Emma Carpenter)

 Steidinger specializes in working with athletes of all ages who seek help for problems ranging from injury recovery to performance anxiety. As around ¼ of Redwood students believe that their mental health escape has been taken away without sports, Steidinger continues to emphasize the importance of maintaining team relationships and partaking in bonding activities, even if they cannot be held in person.

“The impact on mental health is if [teams] don’t do these kinds of activities to keep cohesion, [athletes] feel isolated, and their anxieties might go up about their ability to perform a sport. There might be more self doubt going on,” Steidinger said. “That sense of staying in touch, as hard as it could be at times, is really critical.”

Team camaraderie during this time is especially important for San Diego State University (SDSU) rower and Redwood alum Emma Carpenter. As COVID-19 outbreaks prompted an early closure of all in-person attendance at SDSU, her face to face practices were also canceled, sending Carpenter back home. Although Carpenter has received workouts from her coach and has also attempted to keep in shape on her own time, it is nothing compared to the twice a day practices she had prior to the pandemic. Carpenter now realizes that these practices affected more than just her physical shape. 

“Most people just do their homework after school and are productive that way but [for me] having those practices from 4pm-6:30pm [right after school] actually helped me have a set schedule so I [did not] procrastinate and do other things,” Carpenter said. “When I got home, I was forced to start going or it wouldn’t get it done, which meant I wouldn’t get enough sleep to be prepared for my workout the next day.”

Carpenter plans to begin practicing with her team in person at the start of the next semester in January despite news that SDSU will discontinue their women’s rowing team at the end of this season. Similar to how Carpenter’s coaches hope to keep her team motivated, Marlies Zeisler, a co-coach of the Redwood girls’ varsity tennis team, attempts to do the same with both her players and her son who have experienced the effect of sport withdrawals on mental health.

Running through drills, the Redwood Girls Tennis team hopes to make up for time lost during quarantine. (Photo courtesy of Bella Piacente)

Although Zeisler’s team has been able to start practicing under COVID-19 guidelines, she still gives the same advice on prioritizing mental health to her team as she does to her son.

“My biggest belief is that you have to keep [how you are feeling] out in the open, and if you keep it bottled up, you’re just going to keep feeling all these weird feelings,” Zeisler said. “The more we talk about it [how we are feeling], the better. You’re going to find people that are in exactly the same position, whether it’s [with] a different sport, or a job or whatever it is right now.”

Although many athletes are unable to return to their routine sports schedule at this time, it is important to remember that there are many other activities an athlete can do to increase their mental health during these times of uncertainty.

“Creating alternative [activites] so they don’t have that big gap that they [would normally] spend on sports and also reassurance that they’ll come back to the sport [is really important right now],” Steidinger said. “The sport will be there [when we get back]. It’s just temporarily on hold at this point.”