All humans deal with life stress, but the stress student athletes are experiencing this year relating to Covid-impacted seasons is very unique. For some kids, entire seasons have been lost, while in other cases schools have started their seasons only to shut down after learning about kids who became infected. Some schools have had opponents cancel games, while other schools have had to quarantine kids who may have been exposed to the virus. Regardless of what is on the schedule for next week, kids are unsure about whether events will be cancelled and/or if their school will experience infections resulting in sports/school changes. As adults, we have dealt with change, uncertainty, and adversity, but kids have not had these same experiences. Understanding how kids perceive and respond to stress, therefore, is a really big part of their wellness and overall human development.
Perception, stress & control
One simple, effective way to help kids learn how to overcome stress is to teach them the importance of both how they perceive stress, as well as how much control they exercise over the situation. For example, currently playing under these unusual circumstances could allow kids to view the situation as devastating, but it could also create a picture in their mind that instead frames the situation as challenging. Rather than becoming mad, frustrated, and helpless to the situation, kids can learn that by staying positive and following safety protocols they can increase their chances for playing.
It is also important to help kids take control of situations rather than let situations take control of them. Studies show that control and stress are inversely related; meaning that as one increases the other decreases. Teach kids that by keeping a daily routine, following safety measures, studying, and keeping a training routine they will feel much better than if they sat back and simply reacted to all that is going on around them these days.
Burst stress that is chronic in nature
Stress is experienced in a variety of ways, from sudden and dramatic to slow and minimally problematic. Burst stress is a sudden type of stress, like what you might think of when you hear a fire alarm. Fortunately, we don’t usually deal with a lot of burst stress (unless you work an an emergency job), but right now a lot of what student athletes are experiencing is very much a “burst” experience. Who just got tested positive? Is my school going to shut down? Is my season suddenly over? Much of the news being received at the moment is dramatic, intense, and life-altering, creating potential bursts for kids on a regular basis.
Chronic stress is the long, enduring type of stress that just seems to never end. This type of stress contrasts with acute stress, the kind of stress you might experience only momentarily (like a minor traffic jam or brief headache). Currently, the pandemic is creating a chronic stress situation — every day seems like the day before, and there does not appear to be an end in sight. Over time, chronic stress can leave us numb and complacent, and also zap our motivation. It is for these reasons that we make regular efforts to help kids navigate the ways in which they are coping with the stress they now experience.
Tips to help
- Talk regularly. One of the best things adults can do to help kids right now is to simply take time out to talk — and more importantly, listen. Be honest with kids about the unique nature of these times, listen to their concerns, and try and provide comfort when possible. Allowing kids to experience catharsis can be very therapeutic, especially at this time.
- Frame stress appropriately. Help kids frame stress accurately (some stress is acute, while other stress is more chronic in nature). Depending on the stress they experience it is important to develop responses that are both healthy and effective (you can provide examples for kids to follow).
- Teach kids how to become proactive in the process. Remember, taking control of life situations is generally a better way to go compared to sitting back and being reactive. Help kids make good use of their time, and engage in activities that they control — like studying, training, and doing things that might not do if we weren’t in these unique times.
- Emphasize an internal locus of control. How strongly we feel we have control over situations directly impacts our confidence, motivation, and actions that we take (or do not). People with an external locus of control tend to point everything outward, leaving themselves helpless to situations. People with an internal locus of control will instead turn inward and think of things they can do to improve their situation. While we don’t control the pandemic, we do control our daily thinking and behaviors — a powerful message all kids need to hear.
- Seek professional help. If you feel like your son or daughter needs help beyond what you can provide, consider calling on a professional to lend support. One unforeseen consequence of the pandemic is more people — including kids — are changing their views about mental health from a previous negative stigma to a new, healthier way of viewing mental health support.
Dealing with stress is no easy task — especially for kids. Currently, student athletes face a lot of uncertainty, including how the pandemic continues to impact school, sports, and social activities. Take time out to help your child implement effective stress appraisal and response mechanisms, and create ongoing opportunities for your kids to simply talk about their feeling s and how they are handling the stress in their lives.
athletes, confidence, coronavirus, focus, illness, mental, pandemic, psychology, sport, Stress, toughness