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Quarantine fatigue & Sports : Mental Fatigue due to Isolation during pandemic

Physical skill transcends sport and can be recognized in its absolute form—speed, power, coordination—across a variety of athletic endeavors. But less visible, and perhaps less considered, is the power of the elite athlete’s mind.

It’s no doubt that worldwide, COVID-19 brought the entire globe, to what feels like a yelping halt, and into virtual reality. The simulated reality is evident when viewing an IPL match, only to see empty seats and sound effects of crowds cheering and even chanting the names of their favorite players or an NBA match with bleachers filled with 17-foot video screens with images of fans in their own homes watching the games.

Picture credits: AV magazine

Pro matches vs grassroots

It's not a surprise that the NBA or BCCI took the utmost measures to isolate their players and their families in the NBA/ IPL bio- bubble to keep the players healthy and secure while keeping the game going.

Unfortunately, unlike professional leagues, high school and university athletics in India haven’t undergone the benefits of competing in an isolation bubble. District, state and national competitions, camps and selection matches have been cancelled or modified their schedule whilst disturbing the lives of many student-athletes from high school to university-level, and driving their emotional health, athletic identity into a descent, resulting in feelings of loss, anxiety, and depression.

Fatigue in games during pandemic

Demanding game situations—in combination with factors like training, sleep and stress—challenge an athlete physically and mentally and lead to the development of fatigue. But while physical fatigue has long been considered a factor in performance, diminishing an athlete’s capacity to react, run faster and jump higher, it’s important to begin to understand that a tired brain can negatively affect performance as much as a tired muscle.

What is quarantine fatigue?

Phrases such as: stay at home, work from home, flatten the curve, social distancing and isolation have become a part of our daily vernacular. With no means to train or compete amidst this surge or being part of a strict bio-bubble away from the reality of the world, players of all levels may experience what’s been called ‘COVID-19 fatigue’ or ‘isolation/ quarantine fatigue’.

Quarantine fatigue is categorized as “exhaustion associated with the new restrictive lifestyle that has been adopted to slow down the spread of COVID-19” (Dr. Marques).

The effects felt by athletes during isolation period may be different depending on the athlete’s profile, but a common sense of alienation has certainly been experienced by all. Isolation periods associated with a lack of training sessions and official competitions in a team or even individual sport might also have led to decreased communication between players and coaching staff.

Hence, isolation periods might have led players to a partial or total reversal of the adaptations produced by the training process or ‘detraining’. Thus, together, isolation and sporting inactivity periods tend to produce psychological disorders. Factors like quarantine duration, fears of infection, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, and inadequate information could be the most important ‘stressors’ leading to adverse mental effects.

Picture credits: Shutterstock

How to cope with quarantine fatigue

The unforeseen pandemic has brought forth a deep sense of fear of the unseen and the unknown for humanity, which coupled with grief, loss, isolation, pain, and anxiety has impacted our psychological well-being.

To palliate the feelings of grief, loss, anxiety, sadness, isolation, and confusion for our athletes during these indeterminate times, here are tips to help them "CHEER" through the pandemic (Linda Escobar Olszewski).

  • Community: Make sure to habitually reach out to your coach, teammates, friends, and family. Use this time to fabricate your community through reaching out and building bonds, virtually if necessary.

  • Healthy Eating: Nutrition is a big part of keeping up with your fitness. And during such uncertain times, it becomes far more important for you to maintain healthy eating habits. Though it may be a time where the temptation to engage in indulgence may be at an all time high, but to consciously make healthy choices is important at this stage..

  • Exercise: The disruption in organized sports should not act as an obstruction in your activity. To keep on moving is imperative. Setting goals and a routine for yourself to preserve your fitness and self-confidence should be kept in mind. You could ask your coach for a workout to do at home.

  • Empathy: This is a great time to contemplate upon your love for your sport and remember why it is that you choose to wake up everyday for the grind. Resuscitating the love for your sport and your love for yourself during such uncertain times becomes necessary. This not only can help you remain positive but also helps you to find meaning in each thing you choose to do. Be kind to yourself and to people around you. Connect with teammates and coaching staff.

  • Routine: Work to create some pretense of normalcy in your everyday life. Sure, the circumstances are taxing, both physically and emotionally. Seasons stands cancelled, you haven’t trained properly in months, you haven't gotten the opportunity to test your skills. It feels endless, but remember, the current pandemic is just truly an interim obstacle to your performance as well as process goals. Focusing on the controllable is the key. Create a routine and make sure that routine includes both physical activity and self-care. Be sure to add a restful activity that makes you feel good about yourself, whether it means engaging in a hobby, journaling. Last but not least, always make sure to get enough sleep.

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