Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

I quit baseball after 14 years because someone told me I had ‘anxiety’

By Brendan Hidalgo, Mar. 26, 2024

There has been a recent rise in cases of student-athletes dealing with mental health ailments nationwide according to a study by John Hopkins University, sparking a taboo conversation of athletes being vulnerable and able to speak their minds without fear of judgment.

According to a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, athletes are twice as likely to experience anxiety compared to non-athletes, and to me, that number feels like an understatement.

Choosing to be a student-athlete is similar to committing to two full-time jobs. You are a student in what feels like you are just as much an athlete. I am confident athletes are caught in this stigma telling them they’re not supposed to share how they feel.

The statistics behind student-athletes struggling with mental health have to do with athletes being afraid to open up about their mental health issues.

Waking up in the middle of the night my junior year of high school shaking, with cold sweats, and a rapidly beating heart, I called a mentor of mine in a panic, asking him what was happening. I thought I was dying. This was my first introduction of anxiety into my life.

I quit baseball in my senior year of high school because of my mental health as a student-athlete. Fourteen years of my life were thrown away and forgotten all because a mentor of mine said I had anxiety.

Do I regret it? No. Am I better off because of it? Yes.

The American College of Sports Medicine states that approximately 30% of women and 25% of men who are student-athletes report having anxiety.

I didn’t believe this statistic when I first read it. How could I, someone who eats well and works out every day, suddenly be struggling with being worried all the time?

I remember feeling the weight of my classes, my personal life at home, and the stress of feeling like I wasn’t good enough for the team weighing me down daily. I chose not to think anything of it and brushed it off at the time.

I continued to brush it off until I realized I lost sight of my identity and the reason I played baseball for so many years. So much of my hard work dedicated to perfecting my pitching caused me to take a nosedive in almost every other part of my life.

About one out of every four competitive athletes suffers from mental health-related issues, according to Deutsche Sporhochschule Koln.

Current NFL tight-end Hayden Hurst, now an active advocate for mental health in sports, shared his mental health battle playing baseball coming out of high school to author Brandon Parker of the NFL Players Association. Parker explained the pitcher’s mound had been where Hurst felt the most comfortable but became an uncontrollable setting for his anxiety.

“I felt like I was having baseball ripped away from me and I was kind of embarrassed,” said Hurst.

According to AP News, former NFL offensive lineman T.J. Lang said nobody discussed mental health at the start of his career 15 years ago. As a professional athlete, there’s a stigma to looking like you have everything figured out, and with the ultimate pressure of professional sports, the need for help only increases.

My anxiety caused me to lose confidence in myself. Each night I struggled with my self-confidence and my lack of sleep would cause me to feel worse.

I dreaded going to sleep at night after, with panic attacks keeping me up for weeks. I found comfort in the TV shows I knew the whole plot of, and Christian worship music that only soothed me.

Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

It was a battle for me to perform on the field and in school while learning to cope with my anxiety. I knew a starting pitching job had been something I’d been working to achieve, but I felt like I didn’t have anything in order. My grades would slip, so I’d study harder. Then my play would worsen, so I’d practice more, making my grades tank again. Nothing I felt would work.

I remember being made fun of by my teammates for my lack of performance in games, and the competitive side of me was ashamed of how I would embarrass myself every time I took the mound.

After every game I remember going home and feeling like more pressure was mounting on me because of not having a starting job. Being only a backup made me feel less than and every practice I needed to prove myself more.

Because of this, every day I remember feeling more and more like a failure.

I had all I needed to be successful. I would go to pitching lessons and go to camps to perfect my craft, but I couldn’t make anything perfect. The only thing I felt I could perfect was not being perfect.

I remember constantly comparing myself to other players, and seeing how people with little to no practice would perform much better than me in games and would get the coach’s attention.

Mental health is health. Your thoughts do not define you. You are not defined by what you feel might be real or not, and this is no different for athletes.

Each battle is different, and the way someone might need to deal with a crisis can change.

I’d encourage you to reach out.

For people in sports, it’s important to also know you’re not alone. The struggle you might have is not the same as the person you might see who isn’t struggling.

Though the mental health crisis is not over, studies have shown mental health awareness has been at an all-time high in Generation Z.

According to KFF, Throughout the pandemic, many adults reported symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression, with approximately four in 10 adults reporting these symptoms by early 2021, before declining to approximately three in 10 adults as the pandemic continued.

Sometimes what it even takes for someone to reach out is at the peak of their mental health battles. This needs to stop.

If what athletes are going through now seems to be a growing issue, then I think every day should be mental health day.

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

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