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As students continue to navigate unique learning environments, they’re also adjusting to extracurricular activities in a pandemic. As we continue our “Back to School” series, we look at how students can still enjoy the benefits of those activities during the pandemic.
A recent study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows the positive relationship between physical activity and overall mental health. Researchers found student athletes enjoy high levels of physical and mental health.
“Participants are part of a community and develop new social circles, including adult mentors,” says Taryn Abrams, MD, psychiatrist at Rogers Behavioral Health in Atlanta. “By participating in extra curriculars, individuals develop a sense of meaning, identity, and belonging as well as self-confidence and increased self-esteem.”
As the pandemic continues to call for many group face-to-face interactions to be canceled, Dr. Abrams says that’s when technology can be an asset.
“While it’s more difficult to do group activities virtually, we are truly lucky to live in a time where technology allows us the option to do things like make music together even when physically distant,” she explains. “For student athletes, coaches can organize home conditioning activities and create times for athletes to connect over platforms like Zoom. I think the important thing to focus on is how we can help students make the most of a difficult situation and encourage connection with peers and mentors.”
Even if school-based activities are sidelined, daily physical exercise gives an important boost to mental health.
“A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for one hour reduces the risk of major depression. Physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels–all of which enhance mood, focus, and attention,” says Dr. Abrams. “Anything that gets you moving is great, but physical activity outside can also be an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. Practicing mindfulness helps interrupt the flow of constant worries,” she adds.
When a person is struggling, they often withdraw from activities they used to enjoy. “As part of evidence-based care for depression, Rogers uses behavioral activation, a component of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),” explains Dr. Abrams. “We identify patterns in behavior, including avoidance, and help our patients increase engagement in behaviors that are related to improvements in mood.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with their mental health, Rogers offers multiple levels of care in locations across the country for children, adolescents, and adults. Call 800-767-4411 or request a free, confidential screening online.
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