Being a teenage athlete comes with a lot of demands, from rigorous training schedules and academic commitments to the constant pressure of performance expectations and the need to maintain a healthy balance between physical and mental well-being.
The pressures of being an athlete seems to be a topic on the minds of many researchers as a new study that was published in Mindfulness analyzed how effective relaxation techniques can be among teenagers in terms of their sleep issues and anxiety levels.
The study involved 206 teenagers from six high schools in Sweden that were avid skiers and basketball players. The participants in the study were assigned to one of four different groups through a random process. One group went under a 4-week body scan intervention and another one underwent an 8-week body scan intervention. Then, the study included two active control groups with one that was a 4-week relaxation intervention and another that was an 8-week relaxation intervention. (1)
In each group, participants partook in an 8-minute audio guided body scan exercise and the control group did an 8-minute audio guided relaxation exercise. Each participant was asked to conduct these exercises on their own and after 4, 8 and 16 weeks. After completion, the teenagers had to fill out a questionnaire assessing their sleep problems, anxiety, and depression levels.
The results were promising, as both the body scan intervention and the relaxation intervention helped with anxiety levels and sleep issues. With these results, it indicates that athletes that begin to prioritize better mindfulness by frequently scanning their body and more points of relaxation throughout the day can lead to better sleep and less anxiety levels.
Are you a teen athlete or a parent of a teen athlete? It might be time to start taking a moment to stop and think about what your body needs, especially if your sleep and anxiety have been acting up lately. That’s why we brought in some experts to know how you can still perform your best with adequate sleep and ways to prevent anxiety from getting in the way of your athletics.
Should Mindfulness Become a Priority For All Teens?
Just like eating healthy and hydrating is a major priority for all athletes, scanning your body and introducing meditation techniques into your daily routine might have to start to become a healthy habit.
We spoke with Dr. Mary Ann Covey, a licensed psychologist with Thriveworks, and she said it’s a frequent occurrence for teen athletes to experience more symptoms of anxiety and struggle to establish a healthy sleep routine. (2)
“A teen athlete can experience more anxiety due to physically being exhausted, unrealistic expectations, views of competition as needing to be perfect, and other mental pressures that contribute to anxiety” she told Sleepopolis. “Increased anxiety can lead to sleep issues when basic healthy sleep habits are not being followed, impacted by exhaustion and stress.”
She added that in her own practice, she has seen a correlation between a teen taking on too many sports and it leading to a difficult time developing healthy sleep habits. For instance, she said that when a teenager can’t get enough sleep, it can lead to lower mood and energy levels which can look like depression. However, that might not always be the case because the depressive symptoms might not be depression after all, just sleep deprivation.
We also spoke with Dr. Courtney Conley, a founder and therapist at Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness, who said teen athletes have multiple aspects of their lives they need to juggle, such as performing well, academics, and conditioning along with training practices. (3)
“They put tremendous pressure on themselves to excel in every area of life,” she told Sleepopolis. “Many of the teens I serve in my practice report that no matter what they do, it’s not enough.”
In relation to the body scan intervention that was conducted in the study, Conley suggested that it is essential for teen athletes to stop and examine their bodies.
“Doing a body scan is like taking a mental and physical checkup,” she said. “Our minds and bodies can feel disconnected, and these techniques help bring them together.”
She said that these body scans are not just important to check our body physically, but they allow us a moment to relax since it makes our bodies more equipped at handling stress. Playing close attention to our muscles and engaging in relaxation techniques as an athlete can help us manage our emotions better and can even help us sleep better.
In terms of suggestions, Conley said that most of the anxiety teens have is about the future. With this, she suggested teens need to take one day at a time.
“This is where mindfulness practices, body scans, and relaxation techniques are helpful,” she said. “Slowing down helps bring us mental clarity.”
Teenage life comes with a lot of demands, but make sure it doesn’t take a toll on your mental and physical health, especially sleep. Without sleep, teens will not be able to give their all in sports, academics, friends and family.
2. Thriveworks counseling: High-Quality Therapy & Psychiatry. Accessed November 21, 2024. https://thriveworks.com/therapist/tx/mary-ann-covey.
3. Counseling youth – EH counseling and wellness. Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness. November 7, 2024. Accessed November 21, 2024. https://ehcounselingandwellness.com/about/?kuid=a29e2b19-0d0e-4012-a292-f4245c2abcce&kref=https%3A%2F%2Fehcounselingandwellness.com%2F.
Covey, Ann. Personal Interview. November 20, 2024.
Conley, Courtney. Personal Interview. November 21, 2024.