Sports and Mental Health: How Playing Extreme Sports Make You Happier
When the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020, the whole world immediately came to a standstill. Leisure travels both internationally and domestically have been halted. Lockdowns were imposed. Businesses temporarily closed their doors. Some, however, unfortunately, didn’t thrive largely due to these businesses’ dependence on physical customers.
For the rest of us, we were forced to change our lifestyles just to adapt to the new normal. From the way that we work to the way we spend our free time, these significant changes in our lives can have serious implications for our mental health.
The Importance of Mental Health
“A healthy mind makes a healthy body”. You probably heard of this adage more times that you could count. Perhaps, you might have not given it much thought until one day, you realized that there is truth behind that saying. In these times, it is only natural to feel stressed and anxious.
But if you find that these feelings are consuming most of your energy or life, it could lead to depression and other serious mental health problems. Often, these conditions can be debilitating - making it more challenging to perform tasks that were usually considered simple.
According to the CDC, stress does not only cause worsening of mental health conditions, but they also have physical effects such as:
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Difficulty sleeping or increased nightmares
- Headaches, body pains, stomach issues, skin problems, and other physical reactions
- Weight loss or weight gain
You see, mental health goes far beyond the recesses of our minds. It manifests physically, and can also affect our relationships with everyone that we know. This gives us all the more reason to treat our mental wellness with utmost importance just as we take care of our physical selves.
Sports and Mental Health
Sports are a form of exercise, and we all know that exercise brings a ton of physical benefits. When we are playing sports, we are more physically active thus reducing the risks of heart disease and other health-related complications.
The impact doubles when we’re playing high-adrenaline sports such as skydiving, rafting, skiing, skating, and cycling. These types of extreme sports allow you to work on different muscles and burn more calories, which can be good for your overall fitness. But sports bring a lot more to the table than just physical benefits. They also work wonders for your mental health.
1. Sports Improve Your Mood
Have you ever wondered why you were more energized after a long run when you’re supposed to feel exhausted? This is because our brain releases a chemical known as ‘endorphins’. When your body produces endorphins, it reduces any pain or discomfort that you feel. It also helps you to get a good night’s sleep.
You can produce endorphins by playing high-adrenaline sports (or any other sports, really). But the benefits of this hormone are not only limited to our physical wellness. As they are also known as the “feel-good hormone”, endorphins improve our mood - triggering that more positive outlook in life.
2. Sports Help Us Establish Social Connections
They say that no man is an island, and that is true. Even the most introverted person can also feel socially isolated and can crave human interaction once in a while. After months of enduring one lockdown after another, it is easy to feel the effects of social isolation.
With social distancing and movement restrictions becoming the norms these days, these factors contributed to the ever-persistent feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression brought upon by the pandemic.
While social media helps us to stay connected with our family and friends, it is still incomparable to being physically present. But now that our lives are almost going back to normal with the easing of restrictions, we can now take the opportunity to establish deeper connections and form new friendships through sports.
Sterling Dunn, a military veteran who suffered from depression and trauma, forged meaningful relationships through skydiving. He does not only consider skydiving as an alternative therapy but as a way for him to bond with his fellow veterans. “I like to skydive together with my friends in the military,” he shared. “It’s one way for us to catch up and remember about the good times.”
Team sports such as tandem skydiving and kayaking are great avenues to build that social connection. As these sports rely on teamwork, you are putting trust and confidence in each other. And we all know that trust and confidence are the foundations of a solid friendship.
By gaining a network of new friends and acquaintances, you now have something exciting to look forward to - making you happier and more contented.
3. Sports Help Us to Conquer Our Fears
What is your greatest fear? You probably have been asked this question. You might have answered confidently as you perfectly know what scares you. Other times, you might not be so sure.
But if there is one thing that’s certain about fear, it’s a part of life and part of being human. Even the most headstrong person that you know is not immune to it. It’s how we face our fears that matter.
You might have considered trying skydiving, but maybe you have a fear of heights or you fear that the parachute might not open up at the right time. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to go skiing, but you’re scared about the possibility of an avalanche or going out of control downhill.
It may be hard to believe, but even the most seasoned extreme sports athlete were scared - terrified, even - of performing those heart-stopping stunts for the first time.
But it’s also through extreme sports that they managed to improve their fear management skills. Instead of letting fear consume them, they used it to fuel and create more positive experiences that led to more positive emotions.
So before you drop the idea of skydiving or doing any extreme sports because of fear, think hard and think twice. You certainly don’t want to miss out on seeing the braver, stronger version of yourself. The adrenaline rush is just a bonus.
4. Sports Boost our Confidence
When we’re at our lowest, our self-confidence suffers. But remember this: low self-esteem is synonymous with depression. It hinders growth and fulfillment because you can only see the negative side of things. You may often say “I can’t” because of the lack of trust and confidence in yourself.
Ultra cyclist Giovanni Prosperi, won Race Across America (RAAM) not only because of his discipline and dedication to his training but because he believed that he can. Armed with his passion and his confidence, he was able to amass more than 7,000 miles in his mountain bike. And that’s just in his first year of riding alone.
Giovanni and extreme sports, in general, teach us that in order to surpass difficult challenges, you must first believe that you can do it. Yes, riding on different terrains is not easy. Jumping off an airplane is not easy. Going downhill with your skateboard is not easy.
But the rewards of completing these challenges are fulfilling, which does not only give us a higher level of confidence but also the feeling of overall satisfaction.
5. Sports Help You Stay Calm
If you are living with anxiety or suffering from mental health problems, you perfectly know the feeling of being restless. When a certain situation triggers you, your heartbeat goes up. Your mind also wanders, rendering you unable to focus and stay calm.
But when you’re playing extreme sports, you can’t afford to make dangerous mistakes. This is the reason why any extreme athlete will tell you that to be able to do any routines, keeping a cool head is important in addition to practicing and training non-stop.
Extreme sports will help you become more centered. As a result, it will teach you to stay calm and deal better with stressful situations - be it on the field or in your personal life.
When we want to be physically healthy, we exercise, eat healthily, stay hydrated, and aim for quality sleep as much as possible. When we get sick, we know that we should visit the doctor, take our medicines, and get enough rest to quickly recover.
But as far as our mental health is concerned, we are often at loss on what to do. Seeing a professional can certainly help to alleviate the situation, but there are also things that you can do to improve your mental wellbeing.
Discovering the wonders of high-adrenaline sports is one step that you can do toward your journey to recovery. Not only are sports physically rewarding, but they bring priceless benefits to our mental health.
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