How basketball helped me deal with my anxiety disorder

Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images /

NBA basketball is suspended for at least a month, along with March Madness being canceled. The healing powers of sports will be missed.

In March 2011 I sat in my sociology class listening to the teacher lecture about something I am sure was important, at a high school in small-town, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The day felt as normal as any other had in my last 16 years of life. One second I was feeling normal, and in a split second, I had a feeling like something I had never experienced before.

My heart pounded in my chest, I could not catch my breath, and the room began to spin. The feeling of hyperventilating while your heart is pounding is something I would not wish on anyone. The sensations only lasted maybe a minute, but it felt like an eternity. I put my head down for the rest of the class and tried to comprehend what had just happened. Once the class was over, I left school and explained to my mother the situation.

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It would not be until years later that I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and that this was my first panic attack, but at the time, I was told it was just natural anxiety. This is not a sad story, instead, it is about how basketball helped me deal with my anxiety disorder.

I remember having to miss school for a bit because any time I would attempt to leave the house, I would get those same feelings, and it made the sheer thought of leaving unbearable. Luckily for me, the sport I have loved my entire life, basketball was about to start its yearly March Madness tournament.

I remember watching every game. I could barely sleep, so I would sit in front of the TV all day to watch the NBA and college games, and then re-watch the highlights on ESPN until I finally dozed off. Right now, I could not tell you any of the matchups I watched, even the ones the Wisconsin Badgers played in, or who won the championship, but that did not matter. I just wanted to feel human and basketball helped me do that.

I do not know what it is about basketball that is so soothing. It might be the fluid movement of the players up and down the court, or how you can get mesmerized by every shot on both ends of the floor. Either way, I watched intently. I watched the teams dwindle down from 64 to 16 to two to one and when they crowned a champion, I felt a little bit better.

Eventually, my anxiety levels went back to normal or so it seemed, just like what happens to many people with an anxiety disorder. There are still times when my anxiety flares up, but overall, it is much more manageable, as I have learned ways to cope with it such as mediation, mindfulness, and other breathing exercises. However, to this day, watching basketball is still the escape to me that helps me forget everything else going on.

I still find myself looking forward each year to the NBA season, watching the Milwaukee Bucks play and forgetting about everything. Whether the Bucks are 15-67 or on pace to win 70 games, it still seems to be the best therapy. With COVID-19 making its way into our lives, I was looking forward to March Madness to help me again like it did when I was 16.

But now, for the foreseeable future, basketball is done. COVID-19 has suspended the NBA season and canceled March Madness. I, along with the rest of the sports world, am hurt and angry but understood that human life and safety come first.

People are worried, not knowing what will happen next. In such a stressful time, so many people were hoping sports would ease just a little bit of the pain and tension in the world, just like it has so many times before. The next basketball game is at least 30 days away, and to many people including myself, that will feel like a lifetime.

Now. I understand that sports are not real life and there are many more pressing matters, but that is exactly the point. During times like these, people need an escape, and to many, that was sports.

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People around the world use sports as an escape from life whether it is a stressful job or the chaotic events in the world around us. When these things happen, we can all gather in the arena or around a TV at our favorite spot and watch 10 people try to put a ball in a basket – but it has always felt larger than that. When we are watching basketball, we do not want to be in the real world.

People from all walks a life come together to watch basketball and cheer for teams from all over the United States, and of course that one Canadian team. With the NBA, basketball, and sports in general, gone, many of us feel like we are missing something.

However, basketball will come back and we will all once again get together to watch the one thing in the world that seems to really bring people together. Dealing with mental health issues can be messy and complicated, but sports truly have healing power. Whatever your healing power is, hold onto it in your darkest times.

Basketball helped a six-year-old make friends, a 16-year-old deal with his first panic attack, and a 25-year-old feel like a kid again.

I miss basketball.

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