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Coping with the Emotional Stress of a Sports Injury

Sports psychology strategies for coping with and recovering from injury

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Updated October 02, 2013

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 a more focused, flexible, and resilient athlete. Here are some sports psychology strategies you can use for faster injury recovery.

Learn About Your Injury

Learn as much as possible about the cause, treatment and prevention of your injury. Not fully understanding an injury 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.

Accept Responsibility for Your Injury

This is not to say that the injury is your fault. What this means is that you 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 dwelling on the past or blaming the injury on an outside factor. .

Maintain a Positive Attitude

To heal quickly you need to be committed to overcoming your injury by showing up for your treatments, working hard, and listening and doing what your doctor and/or athletic trainer recommend. You also need to monitor what you are thinking and saying to yourself regarding the injury and the rehab process. Your self-talk is important. Are your thoughts negative and self-defeating? 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.

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.

Also See: How to Use Imagery - Step-by-Step Guide

Get Support

A common response after an injury is to isolate yourself from teammates, coaches, and friends. It is important to maintain contact with others as you recover from your injury. Your teammates, friends and coach can listen when you need to vent some anger, 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.

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.

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. 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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