Student-athletes are no stranger to stress as they navigate the challenges of performing in the classroom and the competition space. Regardless of your sport and major, chances are you are affected by stress from both sides of the student-athlete title on a daily basis. Read on to learn more about stress, how it may impact your performance both academically and athletically, and some tips for managing student athlete stress.
What is stress?
Stress is the physical, mental, or emotional tension that results from your immediate or long term environment or situation. Stress is caused by stressors, which are anything that causes the release of stress hormones. Stressors can be both physical or psychological and can be anything from worrying about athletic and academic performance to the physical demands of training.
However, it is important to note that not all stress is bad and can actually be beneficial as a student athlete. Good stress or acute stress occurs in small bursts and specific situations and can motivate you to meet your goals and perform academically and athletically. An example of good stress would be the temporary stress you may feel before an important exam or competition. Chronic stress is that which is prolonged for extended periods of time and can have negative effects on your health and wellbeing. It can be difficult to determine whether you are experiencing good or bad stress, but there are some symptoms that may flare up if you are under too much stress, including irritability, changes in appetite, and getting sick more often.
Impacts of student athlete stress on academic & athletic performance
Chronic stress can impact athletic performance by affecting both mental and physical health. Stress may contribute to increased risk of anxiety or depression, which may in turn lead to increased risk for injury. If injury does occur, this can cause a vicious cycle since student athlete stress levels are often increased during a rehabilitation period, potentially hindering recovery. In addition to injury, prolonged experiences with stress may lead to athletic burnout, which is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and reduced motivation for training and competition.
The stress student athletes face may also cause academic performance to suffer. Lessened academic performance may then create even higher academic stress, further contributing to the high stress environment.
Tips for managing student athlete stress
- Get adequate sleep
Sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and can contribute to reduced muscle protein synthesis. These outcomes can occur after just one night of sleep deprivation, so it is vital to get enough sleep on a daily basis.
- Eat healthy, nutrient dense foods regularly
Consuming plenty of nutrient dense foods will help equip your mind and body to manage the physiological changes and increased nutrient needs that come along with stress. Eating throughout the day will keep your brain functioning at its best and enable your body to recover efficiently from training. Additionally, don’t forget to keep enjoying the foods you love! Restriction can be stressful and food is an important source of joy and social connection.
- Practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness can aid in reducing and managing stress, depression, and anxiety. With mindfulness, the focus is on being present in your current moment and having a heightened awareness of where you are and what you are doing, without being affected or influenced by what is going on around you. One way to practice mindfulness is through mindful eating, which emphasizes being fully focused on what you are eating at a given time, paying attention to how the food looks and tastes, and noticing how you feel while you eat it. Meditation is another tool for practicing mindfulness that may reduce stress. If you’re new to meditation, guided meditation apps like Headspace and Calm can be a great place to start.
- Take time for self care and hobbies
It is important to take time for yourself outside of school and sports. Self care is individualized and can range from spending time with loved ones to watching TV to doing your favorite hobby. The goal is to do something that makes you happy and gives you a break from activities that may be stress inducing. Yoga is one way to unplug that may reduce stress and anxiety and may also improve academic performance.
- Don’t be afraid to relax or take a rest day
It is important to listen to your body and your mind. Sometimes the best option is to skip a study session or a workout so that you feel rejuvenated for the next ones. In addition to being a stress reliever itself, a rest day will provide plenty of time to get the sleep your body needs, practice mindfulness, and take time for self care and hobbies. A day off can also be a great opportunity to meal prep nutrient-dense foods to keep you fueled on the busier days to come.