When feeling overwhelmed by all that is happening in the world, my first instinct is to curl up under the sheets and ignore all my problems. And, when that doesn’t work, to slip on my tennis shoes, put on a mask, leash my dog, and go for a jog. The wind hitting my face, or better yet, the rain, instantly soothes my mind and allows the clarity I need to work towards possible solutions to my problems. For me, jogging is an effective and assured method to cope.
With this in mind, I interviewed some friends of mine, two highly athletic Berkeley High School (BHS) students, about their own experiences with using exercise as a coping mechanism. Sydney James, who plays soccer, and Carolyn Booth, who mountain bikes, agreed with the effectiveness of such an activity. Booth explained, “Exercise is extremely important in both my mental and physical wellbeing. Going out and being able to be active provides a space in which I am able to remove myself from some of the stagnancy of being indoors.”
This is in accordance with James, who said, “There’s definitely an endorphin rush. [Exercising] relaxes all your muscles, [so] you’re no longer stiff from sitting in a chair.”
Booth reported a significant increase in mood and said that, with COVID-19 guidelines encouraging people to remain indoors, sports are the only thing that gets her out of the house.
James stressed that distance learning school has in no way, like every other person I’ve spoken to on this issue, worked for her. She explained that she relied on peer pressure to do well in school and without that she lacks the motivation to engage in her classes. She plays on a competitive soccer team, with girls three years older than her, and says that the competitive drive she is unable to receive from school she can obtain, in some parts, from soccer.
“Everything’s a competition,” James explained. “How fast you can run the drill, how accurate you are. I really thrive on that.” In response to a question about the mindset you enter when getting into the groove of the game, James replied, “I can leave all my problems at the edge of the field. There’s no, ‘Oh, I need to turn in this assignment in three hours and I have to do A, B, and C to complete it,’ it’s just … kick the ball.”
Booth agreed. Mountain biking workouts primarily consist of cardio, and she explained that, “It’ll take about half an hour before I can start focusing on the motions of what I’m doing. … It’s hard to go from doing nothing and being still to going out and pushing yourself.”
Overall, both students reported that their sport was their main outlet for stress. When finding a coping mechanism, it is important to consider the effectiveness of it. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, better physical health, boost mood, create a more positive mindset, improve sleep, and encourage more social habits. In a time like now, where interaction is limited and spirits are low, exercise is more important than ever and should be utilized to cope with all the pent-up yuckiness that life has thrown us. So if you have a free afternoon, consider putting down the phone and going for a stroll.