7 Ways to Cope with the Emotional Stress of an Injury

Sports psychology strategies to use while recovering

Recovery
Man putting some ointment on his partner shoulder. Bambu Productions/Iconica/Getty Images

Coping with the stress of an injury requires both physical and psychological resilience. Sports injury recovery typically focuses on physical rehab, but it's also important to include sports psychology techniques to help recover mentally and emotionally.

Athletes react to injuries with a wide range of emotions which may include denial, anger, sadness, and even depression. An injury often seems unfair to anyone who has been physically active and otherwise healthy.

Although these feelings are real, it’s important to move beyond the negative and find more positive strategies to cope with this setback. In many cases dealing gracefully with an injury helps an athlete become more focused, flexible, and resilient.

Here are some sports psychology strategies you can use for faster injury recovery.

1. Learn About Your Injury

The more you know about the cause, treatment and prevention of your injury, the less it can cause fear or anxiety. Learn how to talk to your doctor.

Ask the following questions of your doctor, trainer, coach or therapist until you know exactly what you can do to heal quickly and fully.

  • What is my diagnosis (what type of injury do I have)?
  • How long will recovery take?
  • What is the purpose of the treatments I am receiving?
  • What should I expect during rehab?
  • What alternative workouts can I safely do?
  • What are the warning signs that I am getting worse?

    By understanding the injury and knowing what to expect during the rehabilitation process, you will feel less anxiety and a greater sense of control.

    2. Accept Responsibility for Your Injury

    This is not to say that the injury is your fault. What this means is that your mindset needs to change. Instead on focusing on performance, you need to accept that now you have an injury and you are the only one that can fully determine your outcome.

    By taking responsibility for your recovery process, you will find a greater sense of control and will quickly progress in recovery, rather than pushing yourself to perform at your pre-injury level. 

    3. Maintain a Positive Attitude

    To heal quickly you need to be committed to overcoming your injury by showing up for your treatments, and listening and doing what your doctor and/or athletic trainer recommend. You also need to monitor your self-talk — what you are thinking and saying to yourself regarding the injury and the rehab process.

    Your self-talk is important. To get the most out of your daily rehab, you need to work hard and maintain a positive attitude. Remain focused on what you need to do, not what you are missing out on.

    4. Use the Mind to Heal the Body

    Growing research shows that it may be possible to speed up the healing process by using specific mental skills and techniques such as imagery and self-hypnosis. Imagery techniques use all of the senses to create mental images, feelings and sensations related to a desired outcome as though it is happening now or has already happened.

    For more information about how this may work for you, read: How to Use Imagery - Step-by-Step Guide

    5. Get Support

    A common response after an injury is to isolate yourself from teammates, coaches, and friends. It's important to maintain contact with others as you recover. Your teammates, friends and coach can listen when you need to vent, or can offer advice or encouragement during the rehab process.

    Just knowing you don't have to face the injury alone can also be a tremendous comfort. So, go to practice; remain around the locker room and the weight room. Be visible by being an active member of the group.

    6. Set Appropriate Goals

    Just because you are injured doesn't mean you stop planning or setting goals. Rather than viewing the injury as a crisis, make it another training challenge. You goals will now focus on recovery rather than performance. This will help keep you motivated.

    By monitoring your goals you will also be able to notice small improvements in the rehab of your injury. You will feel more confident that you are getting better and improving.

    Remember to work closely with your therapist or doctor. They can help you set realistic goals that are in line with each stage of your rehab. Most athletes have a tendency to try to speed-up the recovery by doing too much too soon. It is important to accept that you are injured and know your limits.

    7. Maintain Your Fitness While Injured

    Depending upon the type of injury you have, you may be able to modify your training or add alternate forms of training to maintain cardiovascular conditioning or strength. Work with your trainer, therapist, or physician to establish a good alternative workout program. If you can't run, perhaps you can cycle or swim.

    Work on relaxation training and flexibility, as well. Create a modified strength training program, do a limited amount of exercise to maintain cardiovascular fitness or focus on better nutritional health.

    With the right knowledge, support and patience an injury can be overcome without turning your whole world upside down. By taking things slow, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a positive, focused approach, most athletes can overcome minor injuries quickly and major injuries in time. Make sure you see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for any injury.

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