Dealing with an injury is never easy, whether it is a major injury that sidelines you for weeks or months, or one that puts you out of competition for a few days to a week. The psychological consequences can have a profound impact on any athlete, and impede in the ability to fully and quickly rebound and get back to playing like they were before the injury occurred. An injured athlete goes through an array of stressful thoughts, emotions and fears, such as not recovering properly to continue to compete; re-injury; losing playing time, status or income; not being a productive team member; and disappointing others.
Injuries impact an athlete psychologically due to three main functions of sports in an athletes life:
1. Sense of identity: An athlete after enough time and investment into their sport will see themselves in terms of their sport.
2. Major source of self-esteem: For most serious athletes, your sport provides you with a continual source of positive reinforcement and feedback
3. Constructive way to cope with stress: sports is often the way an athlete deals with stress, and losing that source of release can cause one to internalize their stress
There is also the struggle an athlete deals with trying to maintain the respect and admiration of teammates, coaches, team supporters, the media, and even parents. An injury can lead an athlete to feeling guilty and helpless in trying to help their team. While injuries are a normal part of sport competition, athletes feel that they are more likely to gain the respect of others if they return from injury relatively “sooner” than “later.” Athletes often come back too soon from an injury as they are desperate to show team loyalty and win the respect of others.
Strategies for coping with injuries:
1. Be Sad: Let yourself feel and mourn whatever loss you are experiencing, in order to make a full recover both physically and emotionally you need to feel in order to heal.
2. Deal with what is: There is a tendency to look at things and focus on the “could a’ beens” or “way it was”, it is important to look at the situation at hand, the reality of what is.
3. Maintain a positive attitude: While dealing with an injury is never fun, the more positive the attitude the better. A positive attitude can speed up the healing process and lessen the emotional pain.
4. Take an active part in your healing: Be an active participant in your healing process, which means asking questions, following the plan to get you better, and working as hard to get better as you would to compete. This is also a good time to be conscious of getting in visualization 5-10 mins a day specifically for seeing your body healed and whole. “See” in your mind’s eye a healthy supply of red blood cells surrounding that area and facilitating the mending process. I can promise you that this will make you feel less helpless, more in control and much more positive. These attitudinal changes in themselves will speed up your healing. Spend time also visualizing yourself doing the things you usually would be doing if you hadn’t injured yourself.
5. Set new, more realistic goals: It might be necessary to look at measuring your success differently than before. Set new goals, and place the old ones in the past, until you are back at a place where you can entertain the old ones again.
6. Be patient: Allow your body the time it needs to heal. In the long run this will allow you to get back to full strength quicker. Rushing an injury only sets yourself up for setbacks and more frustrations.
7. If necessary, seek out a counselor: If depression, a lost of interest in things that use to excite you, eating and sleeping habits or anything else that is different than normal lasts for a long time, it might be time to seek out help. Your perspective of things has been seriously altered and it is time to get some additional help.