Three Ways Participating in Sports Helps Mental Health
Just because you've aged out of high school or college sports, it doesn't mean your athletic career has to be over. It's never to late to try a new sport or return to one you used to love. Need some incentive to get moving? Below I’ve listed three ways participating in sports helps your mental health.
1) Sports Help You Make Friends
Research shows us two things: friend groups tend to shrink after age 25 and people who have social connections tend to cope better with anxiety, depression, and stress. If you're having a tough time making friends as an adult, try a group exercise class or join a sports club or team. If you attend consistently chances are you'll start seeing the same people over and over again. Become a regular and strike up a conversation with another participant. Consistent interaction is an essential ingredient of friendship. You also share a common goal or challenge, which is a great conversation starter and camaraderie builder.
2) Sports Help you Learn to Tolerate Being a Beginner
Let’s face it, adults aren’t great at trying new things. Many of us resist doing anything we aren’t already good at because we’re scared of looking stupid or struggling in front of others. I get it! The first time I joined a road cycling group I had LOTS of anxious thoughts:
What if I crash? What if I can’t keep up with the group? What if I forget to unclip from my pedals and just fall over when we stop? That would be so embarrassing!
Despite having these anxious thoughts I tried the group anyway, and I’m glad I did. Cycling is now one of my favorite forms of exercise. I’ve made new friends though cycling. Over time this group helped me become more comfortable on my bike which made it possible for me to try another new thing: completing an Ironman 70.3.
Trying new things is scary, and having novel experiences makes life more fun. Next time you want to try something new, embrace and own your newness. Tell the group leader you are a first timer. Ask for help. Be open to feedback. Watch and learn from others.
3) Sports Teach you to Think Flexibly
Flexible thinking is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) skill that I regularly practice with therapy clients who are experiencing anxiety and depression. Participating in sports provide countless opportunities to put these flexible thinking skills to use. How so?
If you participate in sports long enough you're going to have a setback. You'll get an injury, reach a plateau, make a mistake that costs your team, or fail to hit your goal time or place. These setbacks give you an opportunity to identify and re-frame unhelpful thoughts. Here are some examples of how you can try thinking flexibly:
If you don’t achieve your A goal, can you still set and achieve a B or a C goal?
Can you find value and purpose in showing up, even if you're disappointed in your performance?
Can you exercise self-compassion and challenge unhelpful thoughts that might arise if you have to skip or adjust a workout?
Let's Work Together
Interested in trying the strategies above, but need some extra guidance? You're welcome to contact me to request a free consultation or explore my therapy services for enhancing relationships and treating anxiety and depression.
This blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.