A mental health reckoning is staring down every student-athlete and coach impacted by seasons canceled amid efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association canceled all spring sports. The NJCAA canceled all spring sports and upcoming basketball championships. 

Virtually every sports association across the country is at a standstill, leaving athletes and coaches grappling with the loss of their daily routines and identity.

“There’s a lot of things that come to mind,” said Jessica Ramsey, a behaviorist with Labette Center for Mental Health Services. “One of the most important things is to remember that we’re all in this thing together. We’re trying to find what the right thing is to do.”

Ramsey is encouraging everybody struggling with being confined to their homes to remain active and purposeful.

“One of the main things is to get on a good schedule and good routine,” Ramsey said. “Make time to be active like you would’ve been in you were going to practices. It’s important to go outside and get some fresh air as long as we’re allowed to.

“Set goals for yourself for the day. Try your hardest not to get into a slump of staying in bed and letting the depression set in. That can take a bad turn before you know it.” 

Depression and other mental health issues are a natural byproduct that those who dedicate their lives to athletics will likely experience with the loss of their seasons.

“They lost a part of their identity,” Ramsey said. “And that’s heartbreaking.” 

Open communication lines with teammates, coaches and trusted friends and family is vital to enduring and overcoming any emotional blocks, according to Ramsey.

“Another thing I would tell them is to reach out to someone they’re comfortable with,” Ramsey said. “Whether that’s a teammate, the coach or anybody. Whether it’s on the phone or virtual chats that are going on. Those seem to help people still be together, so to speak.”

With most people relegated to their televisions and devices, Ramsey warns against overexposure to social media.

Many reactions to COVID-19 and the cancellation of sports across social media platforms often veer towards anger and a belief that the measures are an overreaction.

“I would encourage people to stop sharing the misinformation,” Ramsey said. “Make sure the information is correct. It can come from the CDC or the World Health Organization. But sharing posts from friends of friends…it can be crazy. Just know who your sources are.” 

Instead, Ramsey hopes that people can serve as example in following health department guidelines in flattening the curve.

“Be an example,” Ramsey said. “Stay at home. If someone invites you to come over or go to a bar…you don’t have to go do those things. Remind them about social distancing. We don’t know where each other’s germs. So being mindful and telling your friends and coworkers that want to go out and do something at the end of the day, it’s a no.” 

While many athletes and coaches, as well as every other citizen, may be facing mental health issues for the first time as a result of the sudden isolation, there are countless individuals who were battling this before the pandemic and will be doing so after it passes.

“I really hope that those people are reaching out for help,” Ramsey said. “The added stress of everything that’s going on for somebody who’s already experiencing depression and anxiety can be horrific. As mental health professionals, we know those people may need an extra phone call or talk. But we can’t read minds. So we hope people are reaching out. And I’d encourage all of those people to reach out to us.” 

Sports networks like ESPN and CBS, as well as local media entities, have been showing replays of classic games to fill the gap as sports remain halted around the world. Indulgence and exposure could serve, according to Ramsey, as a source of relief for athletes and coaches that are missing their sports.

“I believe that can be therapeutic,” Ramsey said. “That’s what a lot of people are doing. As long as you’re not getting into a negative mindset while you’re doing it. That’s not going to be healthy for you. As long as you’re able to enjoy it.” 

Ultimately, the loss of sports from our daily routines is emblematic of what society is going through at large — a loss of identity and purpose as we stay at home, practice social distancing and try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

From an emotional perspective, perhaps the best strategy for dealing with the sudden stoppages and changes is to live in the present and take it day-by-day.

“Use some mindfulness as part of your routine,” Ramsey said. “That’s about being in the here and now. Focus on your breathing and focus on everything that’s going on.” 

Editor’s note: This story is derived from an interview conducted on The War Room, a weekly sports radio show on KLKC hosted by Sean Frye on Monday’s at 7:30 a.m. on 106.7 FM.

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