College Athletics and Mental Health Have a Lot in Common
Playing division 1 soccer in college was always a dream of mine, and while it was everything I dreamed of in many ways, I faced more challenges than I ever expected. I transferred colleges amidst the shutdown from the pandemic and felt I would be able to adjust. After a canceled season, moved to spring, my junior year was not off to the best start. It was not until the end of the junior year where I began to struggle with anxiety and felt way over my head. Since mental health is only touched on slightly in the beginning of each year, I did not know what I was dealing with was anxiety, I felt off and did not know what to call that I was feeling.
I went home for the summer, and upon my return for my senior year it felt impossible for me to even leave my apartment. I began to freak out—how was I going to go on travel trips? Get through trainings? Go to class? Hang out with my friends? This was abnormal for me since I loved to get out and do things, but it was a challenge to even leave my bed. I was scared and struggling with what to do because I did not want to show any weakness—although all I felt was weak. This became exhausting, fighting my mind and feeling lost because I normally could deal with my mental challenges head on.
Reaching out to friends: I started out by reaching out to some of my friends because maybe they would know a term for what I am dealing with or know how to help. It took a lot for me to reach out because it always seemed like I had it all. I was playing soccer, starting, doing well in school, and had great friends, but what was struggling was my mental health. After speaking with my friends, they mentioned it might be extreme stress or anxiety, but they overall told me to reach out to our trainer to see what she thinks.
Family: When it came to my family, I was worried what they would think because I had always been the strong one, able to accomplish anything, but I was worried they would think I had no reason to feel this way. I let the fear of speaking out delay telling my parents because I did not want to worry them. Nevertheless, telling them was the best thing I could have done. Although far away, I spent a lot of time on the phone with them, crying, laughing, and them giving me tips on how to cope.
Talking to my Athletic Trainer: I was fortunate to have a good relationship with my athletic trainer but sending the text that I really needed help was so difficult for me. I was afraid of being judged, or this getting to my coaches, and it impacted how people treat me. The first thing she said to me was, “nicely done on reaching out” words that instantly calmed my nerves. She got me connected with a therapist, but I remember those days between reaching out to her and getting a therapist felt like centuries.
Therapist: I got connected with a therapist and started meeting with him every week. I remember sitting in my apartment crying telling him I don’t know how this can ever get better. I felt like I was at one of my darkest moments and I couldn’t see any light. I had to be kind to myself, and with his support, along with my friends and family I was able to slowly get better with each session. While it wasn’t a simple process, I began to do small tasks, and then started facing larger ones. While therapy helped me immensely, I also started taking an SSRI which paired with therapy has helped a lot. Not every day is easy, and on those days, I find myself with racing thoughts of anxiety, I turn to those I can trust, I journal, color, take deep breaths, turn on my lavender oil diffuser, and try to get outside.
Being a college athlete comes with an immense amount of pressure. I always thought if I could not handle something, then how am I going to be in the real world? The one thing I learned through college sports is that so many other people feel this way too. Once I opened up to others when I felt comfortable, I realized how many of my peers were struggling too. Releasing the stigma of always having to tough it out in college sports has made me a better person, one who never wants anyone else to go through this. I know that is easier said than done, but hopefully getting my story out there will help at least one person reach out for help.
I want to remind all of you, no matter what you are facing in life, find those you can lean on in dark times, and know it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
Therapy has worked for me, and it can work for you too. Schedule a free consultation today!