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Helping The Student-Athlete Mentality

Let’s face it we are living in chaotic times. As working adults, we understand the pressure and stress of day-to-day life. But what about the student-athlete? After high school, we are asking 17yr old to pretty much handle the stresses of an adult in a school setting. Not only does the student-athlete have to perform well in school but also has enough left in the tank to go out and perform at practice or a game. This can take a toll on the mental health of student-athletes which then affects their physical. We are going to dabble in some of the changes that the athlete should make when dealing with college stress.

The first thing is to get a morning routine. I know you want to sleep in, and hit the snooze button over and over again, but that only leads to more stress. I will explain. Imagine you have an 8 o’clock class and you studied (or partied) until 2 am the night before. When the alarm sounds at 7 am you hit the snooze button, giving you an extra 10 minutes. It goes off again and you hit snooze. You do this about 3 or 4 times until you realize it’s 7:40 and you are going to be late for class. The mad dash to brush your teeth, do your hair, and put on clothes has now spiked your cortisol (or the stress hormone) sky-high. Add that with other things that could go wrong on the way to that class and throughout the day and you’ve become a giant stress ball. One reason is that you didn’t start your day correctly. There’s an old ancient stoic saying “Control what you can control”. The one thing we can do is control how we start our mornings. Having a good morning routine is a good way to prepare mentally and physically for whatever the day may bring. One of the first things you can do is NOT hit the snooze button. By not hitting the snooze button you exercise your discipline and teach the body how the right thing to do. Second, try and strive for about 10min out of doors. exposing yourself to daylight triggers the mechanism for the natural AM cortisol-melatonin / circadian rhythm cycle. Just 2-10min of AM sunlight will dramatically improve sleep patterns. Don’t let the first light your eyes see be the light from your phone. Third, instead of heading to the coffee maker first thing, consider waiting to have coffee until 90-120min after waking. Start instead with high-quality H20 – 16-32oz, or approx. half to 1 liter.

The next thing is what you do outside the classroom. Meaning studying or homework. You probably know about your Circadian rhythm, which is a biological system that controls your sleep/wake cycle over 24 hours. But you have biological cycles that are shorter than 24 hours, too. These are ultradian rhythms. Generally, these daily ultradian cycles involve alternating periods of high-frequency brain activity (about 90 minutes) followed by lower-frequency brain activity (about 20 minutes). Scientists think that it's a delicate balance of potassium and sodium that ultimately controls these cycles.

The brain is kind of a resource hog. It uses more energy than any other organ in the body, draining up to 20 percent of the fuel you have available. Most of that energy (about two-thirds) is spent getting nerve cells to fire, with the rest spent on cell maintenance. When you work really hard, are alert and your brain is functioning in high brain wave states, you eventually disrupt the sodium/potassium balance. The brain detects this and downshifts, moving toward lower brain wave frequencies for a break. You perceive this as a general fogginess, fatigue, or inability to concentrate. Once your brain has had time to get itself together, restoring the sodium-potassium ratio back to normal in the Theta state, the haze passes and you're ready to charge at your work again. But what happens if you try to push through the rest phase of your ultradian rhythm? You trigger your body's fight-or-flight (stress) response. That's bad news because, as part of your natural survival mechanisms, the fight-or-flight response causes the parts of your brain that handle logic to become less active, the idea being that, if you think completely through a threat, you'll probably end up overwhelmed. You lose the ability to focus and increase the risk of feeling hyper-alert and anxious.

So what do we do, we can take a break for “optic flow”. This is a way of refreshing alertness while lowering anxiety. For starters Move forward… literally. Forward ambulation, as in going for a walk, naturally causes a sort of ‘side-to-side’ eye movement, so-called ‘optic-flow,’ which is a result of observing surroundings as you move through space. Outdoors is ideal, but just walking around inside is beneficial. This also provides the opportunity to break up screen time and the risk of computer vision syndrome –a group of vision-related issues that come from long-term use of electronic devices. Near vision occurs because screens often lie within a foot away from the face, forcing muscles in the eyes to maintain focus at a close distance. After a long enough period of time, the muscles start straining to keep objects in focus and grow tired, causing symptoms such as headaches and eye pain.

o one way to reduce symptoms is to reduce eye strain through the 20-20-20 rule: After 20 minutes of screen time, people should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds and repeat as necessary. A fourth 20, which represents 20 seconds of closing the eyes. Closing the eyes allows glands in the eyelids to produce an oil slick that helps to stabilize the tears and prevent evaporation.

This is just part 1 of our discussion to help student-athletes to learn to cope with the stress of college and being an athlete.

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