The psychology of injury
Injury is one of the biggest and realest threats to an athlete’s career. It’s very easy to see how physical injury affects the body, however, it’s much more difficult to gauge how someone is coping psychologically and if they are recovering mentally.
Feeling a loss of identity is very common amongst athletes who suffer an injury, especially if they are out for a long time, or if it ends their career. From this, a whole host of negative emotions can manifest themselves from frustration, anger, isolation, anxiety and depression. All too often, when the physical scars are long gone, the mental injuries can still be there.
There are some ways you can cope psychologically with injury.
· Acceptance: Getting injured is horrible. You will feel bad, you will feel pain and you’ll probably get bored. That’s part of the process. They are normal reactions and know to expect it.
· Recovery time: Once you have the all-clear from the medics, you can start thinking toward your return to play. If the injury means you can no longer participate at the level you want to, you should start making plans for the future. This is where you need that positive mind-set.
· Stay connected: Keep in touch with people both inside and outside your sport. Perhaps use the time to learn more about coaching, if possible, or meet up with friends that you haven’t seen in a while.
· Become better: See the opportunity of injury. It teaches you how to be resilient, and it gives you time to work on other areas of you.
Remember, if you didn’t do your physical rehab your muscles would wither and you’d lose your strength. The same happens to your athletic mind if you don’t use it while recovering. This is a great time to learn new mental skills such as imagery. Imagery is so powerful that it has been proven to ‘activate’ the parts of the brain that move muscles or limbs. For example, if you’ve had surgery on your knee and it can’t move, imagining the movements have the same effect on your mind as physically doing it. This can help you heal faster, and also can improve things like reaction times upon your return.
One more thing. It’s very normal to have a fear of re-injury and that can cloud your play as you take your first few tentative steps back to your athletic career. Persevere and you'll get through it.