There are certain days as an Athletic Trainer that I will never forget. I think about them and I am immediately overcome with emotion. The time I had to stabilize an unconscious athletes cervical spine, only to realize when he regained consciousness that he did not speak a word of English. Or the time an adult athlete had a compound tibia fracture ( bone sticking out through the skin in his lower leg ! ) and his young child was observing my every move. And the State Championship game when an athlete came off the field in a full-blown panic attack. Honestly, I think that was worse for me than the neck injury and the compound fracture. I felt helpless in that situation and had no real skills or tools to fall back on.
Nearly 1 in 3 adolescents meet the criteria to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
That is a significant amount of the population I work with daily who can be affected by this disorder. After doing some (a ton!) of research, and lots of trial and error, I created my “anxiety control kit”. This kit, in addition to talking with athletes about their triggers, the panic loop and what is happening in their body has helped many that I work with feel in control when their anxiety starts to rise. I even have the students I teach use the grounding technique prior to big assessments. Before I had this kit, my solution was always to just tell the athlete to breathe.
I don't know about you, but when someone is telling me to do something that I am already trying to do - and failing at - it only makes me more upset
Well, looking back, that probably wasn’t the most helpful, because I don’t know about you, but when someone is telling me to do something that I am already trying to do and failing at, it only makes me more upset.
I keep this kit in my athletic training bag, in my office, and I have helped clients make their own. Certain parts of this kit can be used independently, but I recommend teaching the accompanying grounding method to help reduce their anxiety and take their focus off their increasing amount of symptoms.
I once heard anxiety described as a snowball rolling down a hill. If it is left up to its own will, it will keep rolling, gaining size and momentum. Recognizing your triggers and having a systematic method of taking back control of your mind and body helps prevent the snowball from turning in to a full on avalanche.
What I keep in my kit
Bag - Am I the only one who has a million Ipsy bags laying around the house? If you want to hop on the Ipsy train, sign up here!, other wise, a plain sandwich bag would work.
Lemon balm - I use this as both something to touch and something to smell.
Various essential oils - I read about which essential oils have calming effects on the brain before choosing which to keep in my kit. I also thought about which scents would be most pleasant as well - I typically keep orange, peppermint and lavender in my kit.
Chewing gum or hard candy - depending on the day I will have chewing gum or hard candy in my kit. I have also used Gatorade chews as well, if I have them on hand.
How do you help athletes who have anxiety or panic attacks? Have you noticed an increase of athletes diagnosed with these disorders? Have you experienced athletes who demonstrate performance anxiety? As an athlete, what helps you calm down and gain control?
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Athlete Sudden Death
Did you know that the chances of a school aged person dying from Sudden Cardiac Death ranges from .6 - 6.2 in every 100,000 people?
What about the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death in that same population?
Each day in our nation there are over 3,470 suicide attempts by young people in grades 9-12.
As an Athletic Trainer, I have practiced using an AED more times than I can fathom.
We have entire protocols written on how to handle sudden cardiac emergency's.
Has it ever happened to me? No.
Has an athlete ever came to me to express their suicide ideation? Yes. More than once.
I was unprepared, scared and had no protocol to fall back on. So why is it that we as Athletic Trainers and coaches (and parents) focus so much on the risk that is much less likely to kill our athletes?
What are we portraying to our student-athletes? Their physical health is more important, and more appropriate to talk about than their mental health.
This mindset only increases the stigma surrounding mental illness. We need to start talking about it in our preseason meetings. We need to educate parents on signs of mental illness as much as we talk about physical injuries. We need change.
Have you ever had to use an AED?
Do you think athletic trainers, coaches and parents should have more training on how to identify student-athletes who may need help, and what steps to take to get them help?
Former Athletic Trainer, current Mental Health Professional. Boston sports lover.