From the age of three, until I became an adult, my parents insisted that I participate in at least one sport (of my own choice). This meant that I had at least one training session each week next to the two weekly PE sessions in school. When I was three this was dance aerobics as my mum took that class and they also had one specifically for children. However, I changed this class to Judo pretty quickly as I’m not exactly the dance or girly type. So from around four to nine, I took a weekly Judo class and when I no longer enjoyed this sport, I took up tennis (since my dad played tennis). I haven’t stopped playing tennis ever since I started playing, but when I was thirteen, I desperately wanted to quit.
I wanted to quit tennis because I didn’t feel comfortable in my training group. Each training group is made up out of you and 7 other people, plus the trainer, and I shared mine with my two-year younger sister and other children of around that age. The age difference had never bothered me before because up until a certain point we still all had a similar mindset until I became a proper teenager. As a teenager, I worried about my appearance. So for example, it didn’t feel good to still be playing with, what they were in my eyes, still children. (I know, silly, but teenagers…)
On top of that, I genuinely didn’t understand their humour and jokes anymore. I didn’t like the topics they talked about and therefore it made me feel anxious to be around them because I felt like I couldn’t talk to them and I was afraid that I would seem boring to them. Eventually, the anxiety became so high that I ended up crying and shouting at my mum. ‘I want to quit!’ I said. But she didn’t allow me to unless I would choose a different sport.
It might have seemed cruel that she didn’t allow me to quit despite the fact that I felt so anxious that I literally felt sick thinking about going. However, if she hadn’t said that I couldn’t quit, I would have quit sport forever then and there on that day. I didn’t want to do a different sport because I was even more anxious to join a completely new club. I would have literally stayed inside my room to avoid anxiety-inducing situations even though I like to be active and I enjoy the sport. Thankfully then, a different solution was found and I got to join a different training group in which I felt slightly less anxious. And I continued playing tennis at that same club until I moved away.
Over the next year, I started to become aware of how much I enjoyed playing tennis (if all of the social aspects are taken out of the equation). I came to realise that sport is so important to me that it overshadows the potential anxiety that may come from needing to around people in order to play tennis. As a result of this realisation, I took up another sport on top of playing tennis: Aikido.
A year later, I decided to finally take up the sport that I have always loved playing most, which is football. Up until that point I had always wanted to play football but had always been too afraid to join the club. I decided that from this point onwards I would never actively avoid doing something that I wanted to do out of anxiety.
It was terrifying don’t get me wrong. It was terrifying when I started Aikido and it was terrifying when I started playing football for a club. Then it stayed terrifying until about the end of the season, but my anxiety got better over time.
But why is it that playing a sport outweighs the really intense and strong anxiety that I did and sometimes still experience?
Sport is intuitive. When you play a game you have to respond and act and there much time to think. I mean, imagine if someone comes running at me with a football and I’m like ‘stop… I need to think about whether I need to try and take this ball away from you.’ The person running at me wouldn’t wait for me to make up my mind. They would have already run past me and potentially scored that goal (since I’m a defender).
The fact that sport requires me to act instead of think is wonderful, as I overthink and overthink (yes, that’s a double) so much in daily life. I can’t stop thinking. I even think while I’m asleep. So when I have to stop thinking when playing sport, it’s almost as if I’m given a little break. I can roam free without needing to think.
Sport also releases endorphins. Haven’t you noticed that you feel particularly good after exercise? Even if the exercise itself was hell (like if you did Insanity for example), you feel really good afterwards. For me, these endorphins are so powerful that if I have been feeling depressed, one training session can lift that cloud. In fact, this is why I like to have a set number of training sessions each week because even if I end up in a depressive spiral, I know that any one of those training sessions can potentially help cure my mind again.
Sport is fun. I don’t know why the sport is fun to me. I only like game types of sport and hate going to the gym or running for no reason. However, I love the games- any game, really. Because a few years after taking up football I also took up basketball, rugby 7s and tried out korfball. If I’m honest, I would love to do most sports but I simply don’t have enough time.
Now if I was to put these in a list, then it will definitely become clear why I choose to play sports despite my anxiety.
|Anxiety||Escape from thoughts|
|Cure for depression|
Sport can be beneficial for your (mental) health too. If you haven’t ever stuck to a sport and done it regularly, it often seems rather difficult to simply start one now. You’ve gone without for your entire life, so why would you change that now? A lot of the time, people also think that they don’t enjoy sports. Sure, you might really dislike any type of sport and exercise but there is so much out there that I am convinced everyone can find something that they can enjoy at least reasonably so. It doesn’t matter whether that is swimming, going to the gym, yoga, walking, football, hockey, baseball, tennis, basketball, frisbee, boxing, martial arts, ice-skating, gymnastics etc.
Try it out. That’s my advice to you. Choose one day a week in which you’ll do any type of exercise that you want to do. Give yourself the opportunity to feel the endorphin release after you have exercised, and keep this up regularly for a few weeks. It will change your life. I hope it will change your life positively anyway.